Short And Sweet: History Of A Birthday Cake


Why do we blow candles? And just how old is this tradition?

There are two types of people: ones who love their birthdays more than other holidays and the others who don’t. It’s safe to assume both sides wouldn’t mind a piece of birthday cake, with or without candles. Let’s go back to Ancient Greece, to find out more about the sweetest ritual is known to humanity. And when we say the sweetest, we are talking about cakes!

The search for birthday cakes takes us back to ancient Greece. Birthday celebrations were held to honor the most powerful and wealthiest people, as well as the gods. Thus, in honor of Artemis, the goddess of the moon, the Greeks carried special cakes made of flour, nuts, olive oil, and honey, to the temples, which were irresistibly reminiscent of our cakes today.

Particularly, to reach Artemis and attract her attention, the cakes symbolized a full luminous moon and were round and decorated with candles. The candles served not only to make the cake visible from above.

The smoke would take their prayers straight to heaven to the goddess. Similarly, today, with blowing candles, we make wishes, and to make them come true, we tend to believe that we have to burn them all in one breathe. It’s like we are blowing candles and sending our wishes to the heavens.

Furthermore, in the Middle Ages, special festive sweet bread with honey and dried fruits were baked at home and in bakeries. In Germany, these cookies were made toddlers for their birthdays, and the tradition was named Kinderfest. Birthday cakes, which began to resemble today’s ones, were also a favorite in England, where coins, jewelry, and other little precious things were put into the dough.

During the XVII century, these cakes were gifted to the newlyweds. A century later, the price of cakes went down significantly, and the number of cakes produced went up considerably.

The first written document about the candles on the cake dates to 1881. That year, a daily newspaper in Switzerland published an article about the fascinating custom of decorating birthday cakes with as many candles as the celebrant is old accompanied by cheerful comments from the guests.

Most western cultures celebrate birthdays with cake, lit candles, and a birthday song. What started as a message to the gods, became a world of complex varieties and tastes.