Art Journaling for Mindfulness Part 5: Blowing Candles Out in Gratitude

Art Journaling for Mindfulness Part 5: Blowing Candles Out in Gratitude

By Barbara K. Stump, MA

“Are you one, Are you two, Are you?”….Let me reword this. Are you looking forward to celebrating your birthday this year? Or have you already celebrated it? Like some of you reading this, not every birthday in my lifetime occurred when life was going well for me. However, the older I get the more I realize the opportunity to celebrate another trip around the sun is a gift. The importance of being able to blow out one’s birthday candles is an integral part of our development as we age. American author, Wilferd Peterson, who wrote The Art of Living, stated, “Your birthday is the beginning of your own personal new year. Your first birthday was a beginning, and each new birthday is a chance to begin again, to start over, to take a new grip on life.” For this art journaling entry we will focus on this concept.

Have you ever wondered why we have birthday cakes, and why we make birthday wishes while blowing candles out? These questions entered my mind recently.   As fate would have it, my birthday fell on a college football Saturday a few weeks ago. So, my husband, who loves football, ordered a beautiful birthday cake for me to share with our friends during the pre-game tailgate. He also made sure there were a significant number of candles on the cake, not the correct amount, but plenty! Someone started playing the “Happy Birthday” song, and at a volume loud enough to get the attention of the surrounding tailgaters. So, with a large, and unfamiliar audience staring at me, I waited in anticipation to blow out all of my birthday candles. However, the candles would not light!  At first I thought they were trick candles. However, after my husband tried to light every single candle on the cake, it was evident that all of the candles were duds. Despite this, everyone still sang “Happy Birthday” to me, and we enjoyed an incredibly delicious birthday cake, which was white chocolate and raspberry. Yum! 

The day was a lot of fun, and it wasn’t until the drive back home, after the game, when an intrusive thought of not being able to blow out my birthday candles popped into my head.  I started to put today’s cake in line with all of the birthday cakes I have been fortunate to have in my lifetime. It was like a slideshow of birthday cake flashbacks! Several amazing cakes came to mind, two of these my mother had made for me. One was an angel food cake with heavenly white frosting and bright pink candles. The other was a banana bread cake in the shape of a tennis racquet, decorated with true artistry for my 16th birthday.  I drew the lucky straw for moms, that’s for sure. I realize many of you reading this might not have fond memories of your childhood birthdays, let alone birthday cakes. 

When I was a single mom, I drew strength on those memories from my upbringing, and did my best to make birthday cakes memorable for my boys. I think the most creative cake I made was for my youngest son. It looked like a sunken pirate chest filled with chocolate covered gold coins, candy necklaces, and gummy blue and white sharks. My other son, who’s birthday cakes usually revolved around a Halloween theme for his October birthdays, was observant then, and still is now.  I recall him telling me, “I know you love me when you make my birthday cake.” Compliments from kids don’t come often, but that was the motivation I needed to hear and it is ingrained in my memory today. 

Can you recall any birthday cakes that stand out to you? For my husband, his memories include a butter brickle cake his mom would make for him. I don’t think Betty Crocker makes this cake mix anymore, but I am planning ahead for his birthday. Challenge is on, and I’m going to try to find a recipe for this flavorful cake! If there is a cake you have always wanted to try, why not challenge yourself to make it for your birthday, or a loved one this year? A little self-love and kindness to others is never wasted energy. Plus a delicious dessert could be very satisfying and a proud accomplishment!

So, maybe the idea of birthdays isn’t all about the gifts, but about the cake and the candles. I honestly can’t remember every birthday gift I have received in my lifetime, can you? However, for some reason birthday cakes stand out for me. Which brings me back to my earlier questions. Why do we have birthday cakes, and why do we put candles on birthday cakes?

Alysa Leven explained in her book, Cake: A slice of History, putting candles on cakes is a tradition that dates back to the Ancient Greeks. They put candles on a cake to pay tribute to the Greek moon goddess, Artemis. Cakes were baked in round shapes to symbolize the moon, and candles were added to show the light reflected from the moon. 

This also became a popular tradition long ago in Germany. In Charles Panati’s book, Extraordinary Origin of Everyday Things, the number of candles on a German Kinderfest cake (“kinder” is German for children) equaled the child’s age. Then an additional candle was added to this number to signify the “light of life.”

Today, we can thank the German immigrants for bringing the custom of putting candles on birthday cakes to the United States. Along with this, the Germans also gave us the tradition of making a wish when we blow out our birthday candles. 

Now that you have a little background knowledge about the origin of birthday cakes and candles, it’s time to circle back to our art journaling for mindfulness. For this prompt you can look at it as a chance to reflect on your years of life, and also to make a wish for your year ahead. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

In your art journal, sketch out one of your favorite birthday cakes. You may use any medium you like, from markers, to crayons, to watercolor, and pen and ink, to render your cake. Experiment and try different ideas with the mediums. Then take a minute to journal why this particular cake stands out in your memory. Who made it? What did it taste like? What was so special about this cake? When you are done with that, then draw a candle to wish for something in the coming year. For example, I added the word peace to my drawings below. You can write a sentence or more if you desire to do so.

Take your time with this– it can be done in several journaling sessions. There is no right or wrong way to work in your art journal. You have many years to reflect on and one to look ahead and refocus your life.  Carl Jung stated, “Life really does begin at forty. Up until then, you are just doing research.“ Maybe one way to interpret this, for some of us over forty, is we are just getting started, and the best is yet to come! 

So, you may be asking, what am I going to do about not being able to blow out those birthday candles from a couple of days ago? I’m thankful, and grateful, for my wonderfully thoughtful husband, who made plans for another dessert this week. It arrived with a candle burning bright, allowing me to blow it out and make a wish for the coming year. It was a joyful relief to do so! John Lennon’s birthday sentiment resonates with me. He said, “Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.” As your own birthday milestone approaches, may you have the opportunity to blow out your birthday candles, and embrace the smiles along your life’s journey!

Barbara is an art education consultant and G3 contributing writer.