Monday, September 08, 2008

"Let's celebrate our birthdays with... cakes??"

I've been told in the past that my curiosity to research about weird topics reaches the freakiest levels at some points. I happened to find out how true that statement is, while preparing a birthday present. Just as I was working on that, I thought that including the image of a birthday cake in the whole thing would be a great idea, but then I backed up and thought: "the birthday cake is an overused way of expressing good wishes for someone's birthday, it lacks all originality... but why is it so popular? and how did people adopt the habit of celebrating birthdays with cakes anyway?". Some big, deep thoughts that I had to reflect upon.

Yes, there can be no doubt that birthday cakes are a very widespread tradition nowadays, and certainly not a lot of people would care about the origins of that custom or the meaning behind it. But to my surprise, I did some research on the web and I found out that there are people out there who have made some extensive research about (apparently unimportant, yet interesting) topics like this. Here are my results:

Historians have two hypotheses about the origins of birthday cakes. One of them is that it all began with ancient Greeks preparing the first cakes and eating them in birthdays, although they were also commonly used to worship the goddess of the Moon, Artemis. They were baked in a round shape to represent the full moon, and then the cakes were decorated with candles to represent the shine of the moon -hence the omipresence round-shaped birthday cakes with candles nowadays. Later, Romans acquired the custom of birthday cakes from Greeks. in the case of Romans, the cakes were prepared for the person celebrating their birthday by close friends and relatives, just as we do in our times. I would presume that the expansion of their empire helped to spread this tradition to many regions.

The other hypothesis suggests that the custom began in the Middle Ages in Germany, where people prepared sweet breads, known as Geburtstagorten, with religious shapes to commemorate the birth of a child. Later in the 18th century, the Germans also introduced the custom of placing candles on top of the cakes, but unlike the Greeks, they were not intended to be mere decoration: candles were believed to bring birthday wishes up to God. However, as the use of candles began to spread out to other regions of the world, it gradually lost all religious significance. Then the use of both cakes and candles spread all across Europe, and I would think that it reached other parts of the world (such as America or Africa) with the expansion of colonialism.

Well, knowing the history behind birthday cakes and candles is definitely interesting. I am not sure about how useful it is, but as I usually say, 'it never does any harm to know a little bit more'. But, while it is true that it is not harmful to know more about birthday cakes now, it is also true that it didn't help a lot to get fresh ideas for the birthday present that I'm currently preparing. So i guess it's time to get back to work for me and make good use of my creativity.

With information from Wikipedia, available at

With information from 'History of Birthday Cake' by Linda Stradley, available at

With information from 'The birthday cake: its evolution from a rite of the elite to the right of everyone' by Shirley Cherkasky, available at

With information from FTD, available at


At 11:32 PM , Blogger chantal said...

te pasaste con el tema jajajaj, aburrido??? La verdad que no puedo decir nada aveces tambien investigo cosas inutiles como por ejemplo cuando se invento la pizza :)
Igual me parece divertido
un beso

At 10:48 AM , Blogger Eddie said...

No es aburrición, la historia fue en verdad como la platico ahí :).

Ahora me siento más cultivado...! LOL

At 2:11 AM , Blogger chantal said...

Gracias por compartir tu vasta cultura con todos :)
un pequenio detallito, no se dice aburricion , se dice aburrimiento... que ya se te olvodo el espaniol? :)

At 1:50 PM , Blogger Eddie said...

Gracias por la flor, y la maceta! Es un placer para mi poder continuar compartiendo mi "vasta" cultura sobre pasteles de cumpleaños! :)

Y ya que estamos en esto de compartir cultura, sírvete ir a esta dirección para encontrar la definición de la palabra "aburrición" según la Real Academia de la Lengua :)


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