You’ve probably had one for every birthday you or your kids have ever celebrated but have you ever wondered why there’s always a birthday cake at parties for everyone from kids to adults? Sure, a sugary treat is super delicious and who wouldn’t want to partake in one but where and why did the tradition of birthday cakes start?
To find the answer we had to hop in the DeLorean and head back to ancient Greece where they served something that slightly resembled the modern day version of what we know as a birthday cake. What they did wasn’t necessarily birthday related though. They used a lunar shaped cake to honor their goddess of the moon Artemis. The round cake was complete with candles which emitted a glow that was meant to replicate the glow of the moon itself.
The Romans seem to be one of the first to actually use cakes to celebrate birthdays. Okay, so we’re stretching the definition of cake a bit. We’re betting something that consisted of oil, wheat, cheese and some honey wouldn’t exactly taste or look like some of the sweet confections we see around the internet and on television baking shows. Regardless though, they did present these “cakes” as part of a birthday party to celebrate the guest of honor.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that a birthday cake and celebration surrounding it that would resemble what we do in modern times. Celebrating children’s birthdays with parties grew in popularity so German bakers decided it was time to capitalize on the trend. They began to bake sweet cakes that they could sell to be part of what was known as Kinderfesten. A candle was placed on the birthday cake to represent each year the child had been alive. Most of these cakes were only available to the very rich though.
With the industrial revolution came birthday cakes for all. The production lines of the 19th century made cakes affordable to the masses and that’s when the tradition of birthday cakes truly began to spread with kids of all backgrounds and economic standing.
So next time you celebrate your kid’s birthday and cut that first slice of cake, you’ll know where the tradition came from. Just don’t make the kids sit around and listen to you tell the story. Wouldn’t want to bring the party to a grinding halt.