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The Birthday Candle Conundrum

by Ferida Wolff


My birthday was fast approaching and I knew my family wanted to celebrate the event. I wouldn’t mind going out for dinner to a fancy-shmancy restaurant that takes a few hours as opposed to one of our usual eat-quick-so-we-don’t-miss-CSI-or-one-of-its-clones places. I would really prefer not to have a party, though, because birthday parties mean birthday cakes and I would rather not have one. 


Birthday cakes have become problematic. At least the candles have. It used to be that one candle for each year was placed into the icing, erect and proud, and another candle was added to grow on, representing good luck for the coming year. Now, with so many decades under my belt, to light individual candles would require easy access to a fire extinguisher. Not only does it pose a fire hazard, it creates quite a bit of heat which is something I prefer to avoid these days; I have enough of my own. There are other choices, to be sure, but none of them seems satisfactory.


For instance, there are the individual number candles. When I made a 90th birthday party for my father, I put a 9 candle and a 0 candle on the cake. It indicated the age but it looked so darn cute. At that age, it is almost an offense to be cute. It feels patronizing. Even though my cake would have different numbers, it would still have the cutesy factor.


Then there is the one-candle-represents-all option. Now, after living over half a century, I think I deserve more than one measly candle! And what kind of candle would it be? One tiny, skinny birthday candle wouldn’t do it for me. A dinner taper, perhaps?  I would look around for the rest of the meal. So perhaps not.  A floor candle would have more weight and dignity but would most certainly squash the cake.


And how about the one-candle-per-decade solution? Also a problem. What do you do at the cusp of a decade? Is it five candles or six, six candles or seven? Does that include the extra candle to grow on, though frankly, unless it refers to mental and spiritual growth, I could just as well do without it? It is just too confusing.


What to do if your family, like mine, insists on a cake? Fortunately, for every question there is an answer. Mine is M&Ms. Who says that only candles may indicate a person’s age? I say put something else on top of the cake. Use one M&M for each year instead. If the top of the cake gets filled up before enough has been put on, start working on the sides of the cake. This has the advantage of looking festive and getting people to focus on the novelty instead of your age. Any kids who happen to be around will be happy to help decorate the cake, and most probably themselves, with chocolate candy, thereby relieving you of a chore.


And the substitution idea is so versatile. If you don’t like M&Ms, you can always substitute chocolate chips or sunflower seeds or, if you are at a certain developmental stage, dried plums, which used to be called prunes but had an image issue. There is no limit to what you can use to decorate your cake. Why not big, plump Bing cherries? Leave the stems sticking up so everyone can grab a cherry to munch on, which they could not very well do with a lighted candle. I like the natural aspect of that.


But if you are still into the artificial thing, there are other choices besides candles for your cake. Try tiny flags on toothpicks. American flags always are welcome but you can have lots of fun with plain colored flags. Spell out your name. Make designs. The no-no here is to get flags that say Over the Hill. Only crass people do that, my husband says.  (I’m sorry, Honey, I won’t do it again.)


One final thought. How about not putting anything on the cake and just enjoying it? That seems to me a sensible solution that creates no problems at all.


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