The History of the Birthday Cake
Cultures have been creating celebratory ‘cakes’ (the term cake and bread were often interchangeable) for thousands of years. However, cakes, specifically for birthdays, similar to what we enjoy today, are believed to have originated in Germany in the 1400′s. Before that time, cakes were almost solely for the celebration of weddings but bakeries began to market them for birthdays as well.
Until the industrial revolution, birthday cakes were almost exclusively for the wealthy, as they were able to afford such extravagance. The industrial revolution helped to spread birthday cakes to the public as the advancement and proliferation of technology and materials made them cheaper and more easily produced.
Like cakes themselves, the tradition of lit candles adorning a cake goes back thousands of years, but did not necessarily become associated with birthdays until much later.
In Ancient Greece, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, as well as the moon (Her twin brother, Apollo, was god of the sun). It is said that cakes brought to the temple of Artemis were adorned with candles to make them glow like the moon. Many ancient cultures and many religions also believed that smoke was a vehicle to carry prayers up to the gods, and it is possible that this idea is the basis for our modern “make a wish” tradition.
As with the marketing of birthday cakes, the addition of candles is also attributed to the Germans around the 1700′s when Kinderfesten, birthday celebrations for children, became more common. The custom was to place a candle for each year of their life as well as extra candles to represent years to come.
While birthday celebrations vary all over the world, most cultures do celebrate the anniversary of birth in some way, and baked sweets like birthday cakes seems to be a very popular way to do so!
Rich Coffman is a blogger on the front range of Colorado. After many attempts at baking he now gets his birthday cakes customized from his local bakery.