A lovely cake with some candles carried by your favorite person- a birthday is not complete without this. The one day of the year when you are treated special is your birthday. And the good thing? It comes with a cake!
So how did this tradition of cutting a cake come about? How long has this been around? Did people from different cultures celebrate their birthdays differently? If these questions have popped up in your mind at any time, do read on.
Birthdays are a time of joy and celebration. They are also a time for togetherness and camaraderie. But birthdays were not always celebrated the same way. Since time immemorial, the birth of a child has been a cause for celebration. Over time, people decided to celebrate the anniversary of the birth. This has been done in many interesting ways all over the globe.
The Greeks and Romans
While ancient Greeks and Romans (of course, the trendsetters!) used the modern cake’s ancestor to celebrate weddings and then birthdays, other civilizations were not far behind. Plakous is the name given to the predecessor of our modern, decadent cakes. The Greeks made this by mixing bread and honey. They also made satura to offer to Artemis, the moon goddess.
Not ones to be left behind, the Romans decided to add a twist with some cheesecake. Like our party-happy wedding trotters, the Romans thought of having multiple birthday celebrations- for close family and friends. They also liked to celebrate the birthdays of their kings and nobles (why pass up an opportunity to have cake, they thought).
The practice of having a sweetmeat to celebrate is almost as old as civilization. So it comes as no surprise that the Germans, Russians, and British had a semblance of the Greek and Roman birthday cake even before they became a birthday ritual. The Germans introduced the layered cakes that have become common these days. Kinderfest is the name the Germans gave to birthday celebrations for little children. They got innovative with cakes for kinderfests, because, well, children always get their way even if they don’t try.
Ancient Indians did not use round, flatbreads. They liked to indulge. Sweetmeats resembling payasam, kheer, jamuns, and traditional Indian sweets that find their way into your Diwali hamper were the norm. The ancient Indians made these offerings to deities either at home or in the temple. Then, they shared them with their family and friends.
The spread of the tradition
With the Age of Industrialisation and Imperialism, many traditions spread along with trade. Birthday celebrations also changed. Cultures mingled, and everyone took the best of each other’s worlds. Many believe that the customary cake-cutting ceremony originated with the British. The British had a custom of hiding some coins or money within the cake. They believed that it would bless the birthday boy or girl. They believed that the person would be fortunate enough to have money throughout the year.
Birthday celebrations were usually confined to the houses of the rich. Eventually, the materials needed to bake a cake became cheaper. It became more commonplace for people to celebrate their birthdays with their loved ones.
The evolution of the birthday cake
As mentioned earlier, birthday cakes have evolved over the years. Initially, they were coarse, like bread. There was no frosting on these cakes. They were sweetened using honey. Any decoration that these cakes had, was thanks to nuts and fruits.
Gradually, people began to add layers to the cakes. This led to the addition of flavors. Soon, people got creative. They added frosting, whipped cream, flavored butter, and even edible flowers to the cakes.
While the ancients made cakes using the available resources, with time, people started to experiment. Cakes became lighter and softer. The French brought about various entremets that was lighter and more delicate than the cakes that people had tasted before. These changed the way birthday cakes looked and tasted.
Once the ingredients became cheaper, more people started to celebrate birthdays. Celebrations moved from being exclusive to rich households to commonplace affairs. Since it was a day for wishes, people started to use the idea of a pinata or the British custom of hiding money within the cake to bless the person with good fortune. Therefore, cakes needed to be cut.
Cake cutting in modern days
Celebrations did not stop with family members. People started inviting their friends and neighbors to celebrate their birthdays. Balloons, party hats, buntings, and birthday presents became the norm. Along with that, cutting cakes became the rage. People could choose from a variety of flavors- chocolate (a favorite among children), vanilla, butterscotch, strawberry, and so on.
The cake with candles, the birthday song, party hats, and cutting the cake among friends became what birthday celebrations were all about. Though the cakes did not contain any hidden treasures, cutting the cake became a necessity. The person celebrating their birthday cut the cake, and then fed their loved ones. Everyone present at the party ate a piece of cake, to celebrate.
The modern take
Cutting a cake today is more of a borrowed trait. It is something that has been done for many, many years, and no one really stops to wonder why we cut cakes. The relevance of cake cutting in present times is sharing. People love to share their special day with friends and family. They like to partake in the revelations with cake, their favorite food and drink, and some games.
So, cutting a cake has changed from a treasure hunt of sorts to a ritualistic sharing of joy. It is a time for togetherness. It is when you show your favorite people that you are grateful for their presence in your life. It is also a great photo opportunity. And a few gifts add to the happiness.
Children, especially, look forward to cutting their birthday cakes because of many reasons. Their ability to imagine sprouts wings when they have to design their cakes.
From the Mickey Mouse and Lightning Mc Queen-shaped cakes of twenty-odd years ago to the savvy ones of today, children have had a hand in the changing shapes and sizes of cakes. They like to have unique cakes based on their current favorite cartoon character, or pop sensation. They also like to have theme-based ones like unicorns, mermaids, the Avengers, the list goes on. Being able to celebrate their birthday with their friends makes it exciting for them. They look forward to having the best cake, so their cake is relished by everyone at the party.
Some people believe that cutting a cake signifies that a person has completed another year of their life, which is a major milestone in itself. The people present at the party are those who have shared the good, bad, and ugly times of the person celebrating their birthday. This is symbolized by the eating of the cake- sharing a slice of the person’s life.
Whatever the reasons behind cutting a cake, everyone agrees that cakes have become an integral part of birthday celebrations. They have become the centerpiece of every birthday party. Though times have changed and people have unique choices when it comes to cakes, they are always important.
Nowadays, many people prefer to smash a cake, rather than cut it. If we were to try and delve into the whys and whats of this new practice, we would probably raise a few eyebrows. However, with a pandemic raging everywhere, most people agree that a smash cake is a great option for health and hygiene reasons. People prefer a smash cake with candles on it, so the person can blow out the candles on the cake that is not being consumed by everyone present at the party.
We at CakeBuzz have been getting more orders for smash cakes, along with the cake that is cut for everyone to eat. Another trend that we have been noticing is that people order party-themed cupcakes that are given to guests, in addition to the birthday cake that has frosting, designs, and figurines.
Whatever the theme, flavor, and design one chooses, a birthday cake is here to stay. After all, what is a birthday without cake and laughter?