Happy Birthday - Now Let's Eat Cake!

How do you celebrate your birthday?  Well, if you’re like most people, you end the celebration by blowing out the candles on top of your birthday cake and then you have a slice of that cake. Have you ever wondered where the tradition of the birthday cake came from?

Birthday Cake(107735)Credit: morguefile.com

Birthday Cake History

Birthday Cake: (noun) a decorated cake served at a birthday party. A pastry or dessert served to a person on his or her birthday. Birthday cakes are usually decorated with a person’s name, display a message of congratulations and candles, equal to the number of years a person has been alive are also placed on the cake. There is also a tradition, not many people know about or practice, to place one extra candle to bring good luck.

The word ‘cake’ is said to have been coined as early as the 13th century and some scholars credit Germany for the original birthday cake. During the Middle Ages, sweetened bread dough was made into the shape of the baby Jesus in swaddling cloth and was used to commemorate His birthday.  This special birthday cake later reemerged in Germany as a Kinderfest or the birthday celebrations of a young child. 

These same scholars also believe that the custom of putting candles on the cake also originated in Germany, where people used to place a large candle in the center of the cake to symbolize “The Light of Life.”

Others believe the origins of the birthday cake date back to the ancient Greeks who made round or moon shaped honey cakes or bread and took it to the temple of Artemis-the Goddess of Moon. While the round shapes signified the moon, candles were placed on the cake to make it glow like the moon.  The Greeks used to take the cake to the temple of Artemis-the Goddess of Moon and some scholars say that the candles were placed on the cake because the people believed that the smoke from the candles carried their wishes and prayers to the gods who lived in the skies.

These cakes of ancient times were also believed to be associated with the annual cycles.  The round shapes were preferred as these represented the cyclical nature of life. Most specifically, these cakes represented the sun and the moon. The round shape may also be attributed to the way they were made in ancient times; breads and cakes were made by hand and most often they were fashioned into round balls and baked on hearthstones or in low, shallow pans.  These breads and cakes baked as round shapes.  With the progress of time, baking pans were developed into various shapes and today, there are cakes in every shape and size.


In Western culture a birthday cake is a baked dessert cake, usually decorated with the person’s name and a message of congratulations. Candles equaling the person’s age are also placed on the cake.  The person celebrating their birthday makes a wish just before blowing-out the candles and tradition is, if all the candles are blown out in one breath the person’s wish will come true. 

Many parents purchase two cakes for a baby’s first birthday. The first is the traditional birthday cake, usually decorated with the party theme. The second is known as a ‘toddler cake,’ which is a small round cake made especially for the toddler to dive into. A fun tradition for the family and guests of the party, as they watch the baby play in the cake!

The Largest Birthday Cake

Las Vegas celebrated their 100th ‘birthday’ in 2005 by rolling out one of the largest birthday cakes in the world! The Las Vegas bakers must have been up all night creating 30,000 half-sheet cakes with nearly 40,000 pounds of frosting! Then, over the next 14 hours, more than 1,000 volunteers built a whopping 130,000-pound pastry from ingredients donated by Sara Lee. The Las Vegas birthday cake is registered in the Guinness Book of World Records replacing a record set in Fort Wayne, Ala.

Several variations of the birthday cake exist outside of the Western culture. The Dutch birthday pastry is a fruit tart topped with whipped cream. Similar to the Dutch, the Western Russians serve fruit pies with a birthday greeting carved into the crusts. The traditional birthday dish in Korea is a seaweed soup. The Swedish birthday cake is made like a pound cake and is often topped with marzipan and decorated with the national flag. The Chinese birthday pastry is the ‘sou bao,’ which are lotus-paste-filled buns made of wheat flour, shaped and colored to resemble peaches, and then each guest is served their own pastry. In India, after the cake has been cut, it is common to rub a piece of cake icing on the face of the birthday person.

Most Popular

The five most popular cake flavors are chocolate cake with vanilla frosting; white cake with chocolate frosting; cheese cake; carrot cake; and ice cream cake.

Nutritional information about the birthday cake:

  • Yellow Cake with Vanilla Frosting (Birthday Cake), Serving Size: 1 slice, Calories: 239, Fat: 9.3g, Carbs: 37.6g, Protein: 2.2g 
  • Chocolate Birthday Cake (Generic), Serving Size: 1 slice, Calories: 219, Fat: 9g, Carbs: 29g, Protein: 5g 
  • White Birthday Cake With White Icing (Store Bought), Serving Size: 2 oz, Calories: 220, Fat: 11g, Carbs: 29g, Protein: 1g 
  • Homemade Chocolate Birthday Cake Serving Size: 1 slice, Calories: 294, Fat: 10g, Carbs: 35g, Protein: 0g 

There is a website where you can go to share pictures, information, and preparation tips about your birthday cake called ‘Coolest Birthday Cakes.’  This website states: “This site is all about sharing birthday cakes between us all (without ever having to buy a cake recipe book or pay any sort of fee - it's all free and will stay that way). I'd love to showcase your birthday cake picture, write-up and tips on our site for others to enjoy and get inspiration from!”

The site has a Cake of the Month Contest, where every month they select the ‘Coolest Cake.’ All cakes must be homemade and preapproved prior to being eligible for the contest. Each cake or cupcake picture must have an explanation about the idea, preparation, some frosting or decorating tips, the recipe and any other information you would like to provide.

So, now that you have some information on the birthday cake, it’s time for you to make a wish, blow-out the candles and enjoy your birthday cake! Happy Birthday!

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