Birthdays 101

Image source: Cosmopolitan Middle East

For most of us, birthdays are special. Maybe it is because of the extra love and attention we gain, or maybe because of the variety of cakes, ranging from simple ones to the latest Encanto Birthday Cake? Or, maybe it is because of all the gifts and treats. No matter the reason, birthdays are still special. C’mon, it was literally the day you were born, you know, came to life, starting your journey, first cried, all of that!

black and white wooden wall with white and black ceramic bowl
Photo by Joseph Menjivar

What does a typical celebration seem to like to you? You might have those 12 am wishes, a good lunch with friends, a dinner party, and gifts? Yes, or for some of you, it might be with some peace and quiet. Huddled up all cozy in bed, watching your favorite shows and movies, with pizza? It is your birthday, how you wish to celebrate it is your call. But no matter how you celebrate it, most of us do seem to have cakes, and candles on our birthdays

Ever wondered why?

Why do we eat cake? (Because Marie Antoinette asked us to?) Why do we blow candles? Why do we receive or give gifts? Why are birthdays celebrated the way they are celebrated? I’ll tell you.

Egyptians and their traditions

Earlier, long long long ago, the day you were born was not much of an important day. Think of it as a random day with your random activities. You wake up, you brush, you bathe, and the like. But one sweet morning, the Egyptians were hit with a bolt of realization. This is how,

Image source: Pharaoh

 You must be aware of the Egyptian Pharaoh, and if you aren’t, Pharaoh was the Egyptian ruler. They were the heads of the areas, and some of them even functioned as religious leaders. So, anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, birthday. In Egypt, a Pharaoh is a person who invites great respect and devotion. It is because of them the Egyptians started the celebration of birthdays.

However, the reason is a bit different. Generally, we celebrate birthdays on the day that denotes our birth. But here, the case is a little bit different. When the Pharaoh is crowned, they are believed to become God. And of course, the coronation is a special day. A literal transition from Pharaoh to God, c’mon. So, to commemorate this special event, the Egyptians started the celebration of their birthday. Here, meaning, the birth of a God.

Greeks and their Round Cakes

Just celebration isn’t enough now, is it? 

We need cake.

Before we dive into why cakes play the main ingredient to a great birthday, let us understand why cakes are round. Yes, yes I know, we have all kinds of shapes and sizes now. I know. But the ancient people didn’t.  

artemis large image 11
Image source: Greek Mythology

    The tradition of having round cakes originated in Ancient Greece. I mean, are we even surprised? Greece is where most of the cool things seem to originate from. And like behind most of the origins, there is a super cool Greek-mythology-related story tied with this as well. 

So, Artemis, the Goddess of Moon, is the daughter of Zeus of Leto. Greeks worship the Goddess of the Moon, and they offered sweet dishes, what we call cake, to her. The reason the cakes are round, as you might have guessed by now, is because of the moon. 

      Not only are the Greeks credited for the round-shaped cakes, but they also did bring the tradition of candles into the play. The candles were placed on the birthday cake to resemble the light of the moon. Such a beautiful sentiment, you got the cake, you got the candle all referencing the moon and its light. Wow.

Romans and their Birthday Cakes

Now, the cakes started being associated with birthdays a little later on. Here come the Romans. The Roman honey cake, known as the Enkhytoi, is an ancient cake. This cake of goodness and taste is brought together with honey, nuts, yeast, and flour. Compared to the cakes we have now, which are mostly round and plump, these cakes are a bit on the flat side. But hey, they taste equally amazing. 

These cakes along with other sweet dishes were mainly served on special occasions like weddings. However, these were soon being utilized for birthdays as well. If you happen to be a famous person, a famous person turning 50, you’d be celebrating your birthday with this honey cake. The fiftieth birthday, mind you. Sadly, if you were a famous person who was also turning 50 and were a woman, you’d have to wait till the 12th century. The 12th century is when women were allowed to feast on cakes for their birthdays. Think about all those wasted famous fifties. 

Germans and their Parties

The whole of birthday traditions: the cake, the candles along with parties were brought together by the Germans. In the Middle Ages, the Germans were the first to start off with a proper celebration for birthdays, very similar to what we have now. The cake, the party, the people. 

But the style of celebration is a tad bit different from what we have now. Firstly, they have a much cooler name for their parties than we do. The Kinderfest is the birthday celebration of kids in Germany. There are many hints of rituals and celebrations peeping here and there on this special day. The Germans observe a variety of traditions to make sure the birthdays are done right. 

For starters, it is believed that in the early times, the kids in Germany would catch the first glimpse of their cake decorated with candles. But but but, hold your spoons, they wouldn’t eat it right then and there. Instead, they’d wait for the celebration at night, blow the candles, and then cut the cake. In case you’re wondering, yes, the candles that were lit in the morning, would burn throughout the day. Magnificent. 

Ludwig Knaus Ein Kinderfest 1868
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Not just that, it is also said that the cake and the candle that the kid was given in the morning symbolized the year of their life. But they’d also receive an extra cake for the year coming next. So, let me get this right, you wake up, you are presented with your birthday cake, you get all the wishes, and then, you get another cake??? Amazing. 

One interesting thing to be noted is that the kids here would get the cakes and candles, all right, and of course, the wishes. But that was it, the ancient Germans didn’t really care much about gifts. But it’s okay, they had a fun party in the evening to make up for it! Along with this, the parents of the birthday kid gave themselves a pat-pat on the back, because they believed that they managed to successfully protect their child’s soul from the evil spirit for another year! 

German birthday history is full of amazing traditions and interesting stories, isn’t it?

We have a full load of people and traditions to thank because it is because of them that we celebrate our birthdays. Not just celebrate, the day was given some meaning, the meaning of value and worth. Although, not everyone is excited about their birthdays, for some of us that are, knowing the history behind birthdays adds to the awesomeness of birthdays!

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