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What is the origin of birthday cake?

Happy birthday to a sweet friend who requested a doodle about white privilege, but who was also understanding about my desire of wanting to be a bright spot during these dark times. Her happy doodle idea was about the origins of birthday cake.

Let's start from the beginning, shall we? Birthday cake would be tough without birthdays. The Ancient Egyptians are credited with “inventing” birthday celebrations. They believed when pharaohs were crowned, they became gods, so their coronation day was pretty special. It was their “birth” as a god.

Ancient Greeks borrowed the tradition, but added to dessert to the celebration. Thinking a dessert would make the celebration all the more meaningful. They baked moon-shaped cakes to offer up to Artemis, goddess of the moon, as a tribute. They decorated them with lit candles to make the cakes shine like the moon. Hence, the reason we have candles on our birthday cakes!

Modern birthday parties celebrating the birth of an individual with candles on a cake (yes, even those who aren't gods) are said to get their roots from the 18th century German celebration “Kinderfeste.” On the morning of a child’s birthday, the child would receive a cake with lighted candles that added up to the kid’s age, plus one. The extra candle was called the “light of life,” representing the hope of another full year to be lived.

The family wouldn't eat the cake until after dinner, so they replaced the candles as they burned out throughout the day. Finally, when the moment came, the birthday child would make a wish and try to blow out all the candles in one breath. Like modern tradition, the birthday girl or boy would make a wish but wouldn’t tell anyone the wish so it would come true.

Since the ingredients to make cakes were pretty expensive, this birthday custom didn’t become popular until the 18th century Industrial Revolution. When more ingredients were available, it made them cheaper, and bakeries even started selling pre-baked cakes.

So, whether you celebrate with chocolate, vanilla, red velvet, german chocolate, ice cream cake or even cupcakes or pie, you now know your celebration is in part thanks to the efforts of those who lived a couple thousand years before you.

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