Visualise a birthday party. What do you see? A bunch of happy faces singing "Happy Birthday To You", party poppers, decorations, yummy snacks and a birthday cake. But did you ever think about why we always cut cakes on birthdays instead of pancakes or muffins? Where did the tradition of cutting cake come from? How long have people been celebrating birthdays with cakes?
Well, to say the first cakes are quite different from the ones we have today. Ancient Egyptians were the trendsetters in baking cakes, which were more like breads than cakes coated with honey.
Romans had fruitcakes with raisins, nuts, and other dry fruits. But for modern cakes, the credit goes to Europe. Round cakes topped with icing made from sugar, egg whites, flavours and dry fruits.
Early cakes in Britain were flat and round and contained fruit and nuts, symbolising fertility.
But to spill about the religious value, it all started in the ancient times when Greeks offered honey cakes, mostly in round shapes, to celebrate the birth of Artemis, the goddess of the moon, as an offering to please her. These round honey cakes symbolise the moon and are adorned with lighted candles on top, symbolising the glowing moon.
These lit candles were believed to carry wishes to the god, and blowing them out was considered a way of sending secret prayers and wishes to Artemis.
Then, the birthday celebration was more ritualistic than the joyous parties we attend these days. But be it ritual or joy, sharing sweet treats remains the same.
Over time, the ritual evolved, and the number of candles on the cake now represents the person's age. Today, it's believed that blowing out all the candles in one go will make a secret wish before cutting the first slice.
However, according to Pagan theory, candles had symbolic power. They believed bad spirits visited people on birthdays, and to protect the person, candles were lit, and friends and family surrounded them as a shield from evil spirits. And the cheers and noises were to shoo the evil spirit away.
Though cakes can be any shape imaginable or unimaginable, there are some theories as to why most cakes are traditionally round shapes. It's believed that god prefers round cakes. It also symbolises the cyclic nature of life as well as the sun and moon. To symbolise the cycle of life, round cakes are cut in some communities.
Another community believes that cutting a cake celebrates a person who has completed another year of their life, a major milestone in their life. Sharing a slice of the cake represents sharing a slice of life with loved ones who were through good or bad times.
Whatever the cause for baking a cake, everyone considers cakes an essential element of birthday celebrations. They have become the main attraction of every birthday celebration.
What was once just a simple round honey-coated bread loaf is now a treat to sweet tooths with a variety of flavours.
Some popular flavours are buttercream frosting, cheesecake, pineapple, red velvet and moist chocolate cake. Mmm, look who is hungry now. So next time attending a birthday party, you can be a Jack of all trades with all that information.