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April 21, 2015

The Origin of Birthday Cake and Candles

A party just isn’t a party without cake…but ever wonder why? Sure, most people like cake (we are convinced those who say they don’t are kidding). But when and how did the birthday traditions we know today–the cake, the song, the candles, the wish–begin?

History of Birthday Cake

History of Birthday Cake

It is believed that the first actual birthday cake was made in Germany in the Middle Ages. The Germans would celebrate children’s birthdays with cake, calling the celebration Kinderfest.

Cakes originally were a coarse, bread-like product, and later became a much sweeter version, called Geburtstagorten.

In the 17th century birthday cakes were made more elaborate with details like icing, layers and decorations, like flowers. However, these kinds of cakes were only affordable by the wealthy, upper class due to the high-priced ingredients.

In the 18th century, food and baking utensils became more accessible, and therefore affordable. With that, the price of cakes went down significantly and the number of cakes produced went up considerably.

History of Birthday Candles

History of Birthday Candles

One theory is that the history of putting candles on cake began in Ancient Greece. The Greeks would make round cakes to honor Artemis, the goddess of the moon. The lit candles on the cake represented the glow of the moon, and the smoke from the candles carried their prayers and wishes to the Gods who lived in the skies.

Some scholars believe the tradition actually started in Germany, where a candle was supposedly placed on the cake to represent “the light of life”.

Today, most western cultures celebrate birthdays with cake, lit candles and a birthday song. The number of candles usually represents the age of the person being celebrated. Many believe that a silent wish must be made while blowing out all the candles with one breath. The wish cannot be told to anyone else, or it will not come true.

What was once just a simple pastry is now a world of complex varieties and flavors. Some of the most popular flavors include red velvet with cream cheese frosting, vanilla bean with buttercream frosting and the classic chocolate on chocolate. Mmm, we’re getting hungry now! The next time you’re happily celebrating a birthday with friends and family, think back on the long history of this fun and interesting tradition.

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