Birthday Cake History

Birthday cakes have a long history. The Roman emperors celebrated their birthdays with offerings of cakes to the gods and to the common people. In the Middle Ages, people celebrated with a cake on the feast day of their name saint instead of their birthday. Elaborate cakes in general were the privilege of the wealthy, birthday cakes are nowadays common to most Western birthday celebrations.

The cake, or sometimes a pastry or dessert, is served to a person on their birthday. In contemporary Western cultures, two rituals are prominent: the singing of the traditional birthday song by the guests and the blowing out of candles on the cake by the birthday person.

It is believed that the first birthday cake candles were used in Germany during the Middle Ages as symbols of earlier religious votive candles. The candle in the center of the cake was called the Lebenslicht, or "light of life", today we call it the "one to grow on". Today candles are placed on the cake in a holder or directly in the cake for each year of the individual's life with one added candle "to grow on" or for extra luck. Traditionally the birthday person makes a private wish, which will be realized if all the candles are extinguished in a single breath.

The phrase "Happy Birthday" did not appear on birthday cakes until the song Happy Birthday to You was popularized in the early 1900s.

A birthday cake is shared amongst all the people attending a birthday party. This represents sharing of joy and togetherness. As a courtesy, it reflects the hosts hospitality and respect for their guests.

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