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Make a Wish: Cakes and Candles Through the Ages

Make a Wish: Cakes and Candles Through the Ages on wetakethecake.com

So, who’s responsible for putting candles on birthday cakes?

Historians can’t seem to pinpoint a definitive answer, but they have been able to piece together some interesting theories. One thing we can all agree on, though, we’re thankful to whoever came up with the idea to make a wish, blow out the candles, and dig into a delicious slice of birthday cake. Here’s a rundown of the most popular theories on the origin of birthday cakes, wishes, and candles.

It started with the Egyptians

Talk about special treatment for VIP status. When Egyptian pharaohs were crowned as rulers, they were considered to – at that moment – have been transformed into gods. So, while family connections were important, being born wasn’t as momentous as being crowned the king or queen of Egypt.

We have the ancient Egyptians to thank for the original concept of celebrating a birth – except that in this case, it was actually the pharaoh’s transformational birth as a god.

The Greeks added candles

Debate rages on about Egypt and the first birthday celebrations, but in general, we’ve come to accept that it was the Greeks who introduced us to birthday candles. The men and women who lived during this time made moon-shaped cakes to offer as attribute to Artemis, the goddess of the moon.

These early cake-makers lit candles and put them on the cakes to further recreate the glowing of the moon. For those keeping score, it means that from the time of the ancient Egyptians to the Greeks, the only ones who got to celebrate birthdays were the gods.

Friends and Romans

Fast-forward just a bit to the Romans, who finally got around to including mere mortals in birthday celebrations. And, they wasted no time in finding ways to make up for the earlier exclusion. The Romans introduced the celebration of birthdays for the public, but Roman rulers also created public holidays to honor the birth dates of famous citizens.

It’s believed that the average life expectancy in those days was about 35. Nearly half of all Roman children died before the age of 10. Which meant that you were indeed very lucky if you did survive to reach your 50th birthday. On that occasion – but only if you were male – you received a special cake baked with wheat flour, grated cheeses, olive oil, and honey. This starts to sound more like the birthday cake we know and love today.

Back to deities

Early Christians weren’t so keen on the idea of celebrating birthdays. The organized church declared it to be a pagan practice and put a stop to what the Romans started. But, even they did an about-face around the fourth century when they adopted Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Turning it over to the kids

It becomes easier to track and verify things as we move closer to the present, which is why we can say with certainty that the contemporary birthday cake is an 18th-century German invention. It was created to complement Kinderfeste, a party for children, who received a cake with one candle for each year they’d been alive – plus one additional to symbolize the hope of living for one more year.

There haven’t been any drastic changes since that time, save Robert Coleman’s 1924 addition of some extra lyrics to a song originally written in 1893. It didn’t take long at all for the original “Good Morning to All” to fade and be known only as “Happy Birthday to You.”

Make a wish and blow out the candles

This interesting birthday activity shines some light – candle light – on the ancient Greeks again. It’s believed that smoke from the candles on their cakes honoring Artemis carried prayers to the gods. Hence, the practice of making a wish before you blow out your birthday candles.

At We Take The Cake, we believe a birthday is a cause for celebration. And what better way to celebrate than with delicious cake. With so many flavors to choose from, we’re sure you’ll find the perfect choice for that special day.