Birthdays are fascinating, aren’t they? They make us feel special. They are much more than just a day on the calendar. And why are they so? It’s because they bring along lots of gifts and good wishes from our near and dear ones. And what is the best way to celebrate them? Birthday cakes and candles.
So friends, join me on an exciting journey to know more about how the age-old tradition of blowing out candles on the birthday cakes began.
Evolution of ‘Birthday’ Cakes
The idea of serving cakes on the occasion of someone’s birthday comes from a German tradition in the 15th Century.
German bakers began marketing a special type of cake for birthdays that were people used more traditionally in wedding celebrations. The cakes though were not actually cakes as we know them today (they were more like a sweet form of bread) and were called “Geburtstagorten”.
The recipe for Geburtstagorten developed as time passed, with further sweet ingredients and additional layers added. By the time the 17th century arrived, the Geburtstagorten had become a much fancier affair with icing and decoration. However, Geburtstagorten from day one was an expensive treat that was only really accessible to the wealthy. It wasn’t until industrial processes permitting mass-production developed, that Geburtstagorten became more affordable, and the tradition of birthday cakes really took off.
Today we have so many varieties of cakes to relish: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, butterscotch, pineapple, black forest, truffle cakes, mousse cakes, cheese cakes, fruit cake, cupcakes and the list is endless. We also have ice cream cakes, a very ‘cool as well as sweet’ kind of combination which makes us delightful.
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Apart from that, in India, we have our home-baked cakes, generally baked in a traditional electric-heated oven by our grandmothers, or nowadays even in a microwave oven (the recipe of which even many of us know, but end up making it a bit messy!), which tastes wonderful with some coffee and tea. The moment one pours the batter into the oven and baking starts, the sweet aroma wafts through our nostrils and slowly the creamy batter changes into a golden brown, soft spongy cake. Irresistible. Hot Cakes. Absolute bliss.
(Warning: Please do not get carried away by the pictures of these delicious cakes. According to scientific experts, even watering of mouth by seeing your favorite food can lead to weight gain.)
Why put candles on cakes?
Putting candles on birthday cakes is a tradition that has been around for a long, long time.The Ancient Greeks, often burned candles as offerings to their many gods and goddesses.
According to some historians, for the Ancient Greeks, putting candles on a cake was a special way to pay tribute to the Greek moon goddess, Artemis.
They baked round cakes to symbolize the moon. They added candles to represent the reflected moonlight. The light from the candles made the cake “glow”, giving it the appearance of a mini-moon!
Blowing out candles
In the mid 19th century, the practice of blowing out candles on birthday cakes began to gain popularity.
Some people believed that the smoke from the candles carried their wishes and prayers to gods who lived in the skies. Others probably believed that the smoke helped to ward off evil spirits.
In Switzerland, it was considered bad luck to eat birthday cake before blowing the candles.
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In old pagan beliefs, candles were regarded as having a magical ability to grant wishes. Many people believe that the birthday boy or girl must make a silent wish before blowing out the candles. If all the candles are blown out in one breath, the wish will come true, and the person will have good luck throughout the year. On the other hand, if it takes more than one breath to blow out all the candles or if the person tells someone what the wish was, it will supposedly not come true.
What do you think? Have you ever made a birthday wish? Did it come true? Share your experience with us.