Why do we celebrate birthdays anyway?

One word: CAKE.

Recently, I have been seeing this post all over the internet:

Eat cake

But have you ever wondered why people celebrate the day you were born? And more so, why do we celebrate it with a cake and lit candles? Really, it’s just another year you’ve managed to live through, no?

cake or death.gif
Umm, I think I’ll go for cake, thank you.

Being alive is indeed something to be happy about. Yet, exuberant birthday celebrations can get awkward at times, but at least there’s a cake, usually. Cake makes everything better.

Every year, between the months of July and September, I find myself regularly attending birthday parties of family and friends. July, which includes my own birthday, is really when the birthday season kicks off.

young
“A party without cake is just a meeting.” Julia Child. I preferred parties to meetings from  a young age.

While I really enjoy attending people’s birthday parties, I rather dislike throwing a birthday party for my birthday. I think it has more to do with the awkwardness of standing behind cake, smiling like an idiot with your jaw frozen in space and time, while guests – some of whom completely out of tune – blurt out the “Happy Birthday” song. But I guess it’s the intention that counts.

At that point, I’m often thinking ‘Hold it there, it’s almost cake time’.

JLAW

So, is cake a socially awkward person’s reward for having made it through the birthday  celebration ritual? Well, not exactly.  And actually celebrating the anniversary of one’s birth has not always been the done thing either.

What if I told you that having your birthday celebrated is the closest you are getting to be a god(dess)? The first ‘birthday’ celebration goes back to the Egyptians who, each year, would rejoice on the anniversary of the pharaoh’s coronation day. The reason being that you were not really born until you were made into a pharaoh, i.e., after you were transformed into a God.

From there, the Greeks contributed to bringing a moon-shaped cake and candles to celebrate the lunar goddess, Artemis, to represent the radiance of the moon and her beauty.

Artemis_Diana_Greek_Goddess_Art_06_by_catherine_la_rose-171x300
Greek Goddess Artemis

Being merry for the common man, and much later for the common woman, was later introduced by the Romans. And although the Christian church first frowned on birthday merriment seeing it as an evil pagan ritual, things changed when Christmas became the symbol of the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Thank God for that!

giphy

But still, what about the cake?

We have to thank the Germans for introducing the contemporary birthday celebrations, which included a cake. They started the ‘kinderfeste’, where children were honoured with a celebration on their birthday, especially when it came to the first birthday. Kids also had candles on their cake; one for each year they had been alive, plus one, symbolising the chance of making it through the coming year.

It is during the Industrial Revolution however that cake became more affordable to the masses, thereby democratising birthday parties.

carlton

Fortunately, we now live at a time where birthday cakes come in various shapes, colours and flavours to please different preferences and dietary requirements, as it is very difficult to imagine a birthday party without a sweet, yummy, treat.

coj cakes

Conversely, cake eating is less and less reserved to birthdays only, and personally I really like being able to enjoy a piece of cake whenever I feel like it outside birthday parties.

Still, there is something even more special about a birthday cake; it is also about sharing special moments with loved ones.

So for all birthdays, past, present and future, and any other day where you feel like celebrating being alive with a piece of cake, Happy Birthday!

JAC

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