Yes, today is my birthday! I’m such a baby. When I was a kid, I did a 100 day countdown. I announced it at breakfast each and every morning for 100 days. My brothers nearly killed me. You can imagine. 100, 99, 98, 97 … But once an adult, they actually called me 100 days before and on my birthday and we had a good laugh.
As for the origins of the birthday cake, I hadn’t thought about the tradition until we were out celebrating my mother-in-law’s 88th birthday, and the waitress started to tell us (whether we wanted to hear it or not – she may as well have pulled up a seat and joined us!). Her story was a little fuzzy around the icing (I think she had partaken in a mighty slice of rum cake). Nevertheless, I was left craving not just a slice (well, sliver) of the cake, but the birthday cake story, as well.
Here follows my very scientific findings from my detailed research!
A number of historians believe that the birthday cake was first cooked-up in ancient Greece. The Greeks formed round or moon shaped honey cakes or bread and took them to the Temple of Artemis to honor the Goddess of the Moon. They placed candles on the cake so that it would glow like the moon, and the smoke of the lit candles carried their wishes and prayers to the Gods who lived up above, in the sky.
Others think that the ritual originated in Germany during the Middle Ages. Reportedly, a sweetened dough was made in the shape of the baby Jesus and was used to commemorate his birthday. Later on – the Kinderfest – birthday celebrations re-emerged in celebration of young children. The Germans placed a large candle in the center of the cake to symbolize ‘the light of life.’
In medieval times, the English placed symbolic objects inside their cakes. Sometimes coins or thimbles were mixed into the batter. The person who bit into the coin was sure to be wealthy, while the poor person who found the thimble would never marry. (Oh my! Imagine that.) Needless to say, if the cake fell while baking it was believed an ominous sign and the poor birthday girl or boy was guaranteed an entire year of bad luck.
Today, we believe, that if we blow out all our candles in one breath, our wish will come true. (By the way, if there are 88 candles on your cake, it’s okay to ask others to blow with you.)
Here’s to luscious birthday cakes, sweet dreams and delicious wishes.