Origin of Birthday Cakes

The idea of celebrating a birthday with a cake began with the Roman Empire who celebrated men’s birthdays with cakes made from nuts, honey, flour and yeast, (just not very sweet). This was for men of high status or importance in an area. Women’s birthdays were not celebrated with any type of cake.

In Western Europe in the 1700s birthdays then were marked for men and women with a very sweet tasting cake. In 1700s Germany, marking a child’s birthday became a festival and could last all day. It was called ‘kinderfeste’. A large cake for the child was baked and had candles on it to be presented when the child woke up that day. The candles were kept lit all day., replacing as needed. The number of candles represented the child’s age. There was also an extra candle added called the ‘light of life’ in hopes the child would live another year, especially since childhood deaths were quite common. The child would not get a slice of the cake until the end of the day. Before eating any cake, the candles would be blown out by the child in one breath (it demonstrated the child was healthy) and they also made a wish, not to be told to anyone. Since ingredients for making a large sweet cake were expensive, the birthday cake was more for children. By the mid-1800s, ingredients were more common and celebrating a birthday with a cake was done for adults and children. The custom was also done in America.

So check any family photos and see if there are birthday cake and candles photographed.

Photos: Two young fellows with their birthday cakes; one in 1953 (age 10) and one in 1955 (age 6)

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs

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How Your Ancestors Celebrated Birthdays

Historical Events on Your Birthday

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