birthday cake on a stand and blue background

The History of Birthdays and Birthday Cakes

It’s easy to find cause for celebration. Nowadays, festivities are had even for the tiniest things, like surviving a productive work week. Celebrations truly shine, however, in the form of ritualistic, annual ones that we have grown up with. There is Christmas, Hanuhhak and Valentines, to name a few.

Perhaps the most important one out of all them is the birthday. Birthdays epitomize our entry to this world. Each year, it also marks our aging up. Some birthdays are even considered rites of passages in different cultures.

A few examples are the Americans’ sweet sixteen parties, the Jewish’s bat mitzvah, and the Hispanics’ quinceanera. Depending on the celebrant and their family, each birthday can go differently. Some have in a birthday party venue in Salt Lake City with a long guest list, loud tunes, and plenty of food.

Meanwhile, others have it at home, surrounded by homemade food and friends and family. As popular as birthdays have been through the times, where exactly did they originate?

Birthdays from a Historical Perspective

Historians believe that the Egyptians originated the concept of celebrating aging up. Crowned pharaohs were said to undergo transformation into gods. At the time, the people of Egypt placed greater importance in the coronation and promotion day of the Pharaohs compared to their initial days of birth.

After the Egyptians came the Greeks. Just as the Egyptians celebrated their Pharaohs becoming gods, the Greeks prepared festivities for their gods and goddesses. Cakes in the shape of the moon were offered to Artemis, the lunar goddess and goddess of the hunt.

The Greeks illuminated the cake by placing lit candles on it. The people that followed after stopped making birthdays exclusive to the gods. In Ancient Rome, Romans celebrated the birth of common men. But only the men’s.

Friends and family alike partied with other common people, while the government imposed public holidays for the birthdays of more renowned figures. Christians, meanwhile, did not celebrate birthdays until the 4th Century.

The people of this religion initially believed that it was a sinful tradition. This is because birthdays were tied to the celebration of Pagan gods. Their opinions changed when they first began honoring the birth of Jesus through the Christmas holidays.

The church accepted this new holiday since officials were hoping that it would help recruit those who were already celebrating the Roman holiday, Saturnalia.

The Birthday Cake Tradition

Group Of Families Celebrating Child's Birthday At Home

The Greeks were the first people to celebrate birthdays with cake. They were also the first people who placed lit candles atop the dessert. They did so because they wanted the cake to illuminate just like the moon in the night sky.

They also believed that the light and smoke from the candle would carry their prayers to the heavens. While we have the Greeks to thank for the tradition of placing candles, the Germans take the credit for the contemporary iteration of birthday parties and cakes.

It began in the 18th Century, with the festivities known as Kinderfeste. On the morning of their birthdays, children received cakes with lit candles on top of it. The number of candles on the cake will always be one more than the child’s current age. The additional candle was regarded as the “light of life.”

It represents the hope for another year of life to be lived. Cakes were expensive back in the day and only rose in popularity once the Industrial Revolution arrived. Ingredients were abundant, making cakes more accessible to the public.

Like practices in the past, how we celebrate birthdays in modern times will be remembered. The things we do may also influence future iterations of birthday celebrations.