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National Editorials & Columns

Birthday Candles

The other day, I was shamed by the single birthday candle left flickering in the wake of my mighty blow. Twinkling on, radiantly rebelling against my exhale that had silenced its 30 fiery friends.

Dancing around my birthday cake. Mocking me: “Look who’s not gonna get her birthday wish now. Mwah-ha-ha-ha.” (That’s how candles laugh, you know.)

“Blow again,” my friend said. The disappointment on my face was not lost on her. I let out a second forced breath and snuffed out the last birthday candle. Not that it mattered.

I wasn’t going to get my birthday wish now. Everyone knows your birthday wish won’t come true unless you blow out all your candles in one puff.

I always think long and hard about what I am going to wish for on my birthday cake. I had a good one this year. That defiant little candle proved to be a massive disappointment.

I sat at my party — sulking miserably into my “Finding Nemo” vanilla sheet cake, which was complete with plastic rings featuring the characters. Not even the iridescent picture of the squid who inks himself when frightened could lift my spirits.

I thought about all my birthday wishes left unanswered over the years. And that’s when it dawned on me: My birthday wishes never come true, no matter how successfully I blow out my candles!

At first, I didn’t believe it. It must be a mistake! But as I considered the things I’d asked for over the years, I could not come up with a single wish that had been granted.

Something had gone awry with birthday magic. Why else would my wishes have remained unfulfilled? Surely, it couldn’t have been because I’d asked for the crown jewels or my very own abominable snow-masseuse or to become a world-famous trampoline dancer.

No! Something had been wrong with the magic.

I wondered, “Have I been using the wrong candles all these years?”

I blame my parents. They should’ve known those skinny, multicolored birthday candles they would buy didn’t have any real wish-granting potential.

My parents, the birthday wish murderers. I could have 18 Grammys from my rockin’ rap career by now, dang it!

Needing to know whether the candles were at fault, I went straight to the place we all go when we need help finding the answers to life’s deepest quandaries: Wikipedia.

It turns out that humans have been wishing on birthday candles for nearly as long as we’ve been making fire.

(This tradition was enhanced, of course, by the world-altering discovery of icing and the joy of licking it off said blown-out candles.)

European pagans lit birthday candles to ward off evil spirits who would hear your wish and foil your secret desires. The ancient Greeks lit a huge candle in the center of a moon-shaped cake to honor the goddess Artemis.

They believed the smoke carried your wish up to the gods so it could be heard and granted. Once the candle was blown out, the wafting message stopped in its tracks and dissipated.

Well, no wonder I never got Leonardo DiCaprio to take me to my junior-high dance after I made that wish on my 13th birthday in the wake of my successfully blowing out all my candles. By blowing out the candles, I ensured that my wish wasn’t heard by the powers that be.

And even if the wish had been heard, the birthday candles were so skinny that the evil spirits certainly would have overheard it, too. They probably visited Leo that very same day and told him that I had food in my braces and was a gross kisser.

See? It’s all coming together!

As upsetting as it is to have failed miserably at sufficiently making birthday wishes over the years, there is comfort in knowing that from now on, I can fix this problem. From this point forward, I will go to Yankee Candle and buy one of those monstrous three-wick suckers, stick it in the middle of my cake and let it burn out slowly until my entire birthday cake is covered in a toxic layer of wax.

That should do it. And, I guess, for good measure, I could consider wishing for more feasible things. Maybe next year, I’ll ask for that pony little girls always seem to want. And if Leonardo DiCaprio-from-1995 wants to come be my stable boy, who am I to stop him?

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