Why Do We Eat Cakes on Birthdays?

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Now, we all know that birthdays are a time to celebrate another trip around the sun, but have you ever stopped to think about why cake became the centerpiece of these joyous occasions? It turns out that our love affair with birthday cake has some seriously ancient roots.

Picture this: We’re in ancient Greece, a land of philosophers, epic tales, and, yes, some pretty amazing desserts. Greeks are known for their extravagant feasts and celebrations, and birthdays were no exception. But it wasn’t all about cake in those days – they had their own sweet treat known as “plakous.”

Plakous wasn’t exactly like the towering, frosting-covered cakes we’re accustomed to today. Instead, it was more like a flat, round pastry made from wheat, honey, and cheese. Sounds intriguing, right? Well, it gets even better. Ancient Greeks believed that the round shape of plakous symbolized the moon and the candles placed on top represented the glow of the moon. Talk about a cosmic dessert!

Greeks believed that the light of the moon brought protection and good fortune, so by enjoying plakous with candles, they were invoking these blessings for the birthday person. Plus, the sweetness of honey was thought to bring a sweet life to the celebrant.

Some believe that in ancient Greece, people would offer cake to Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon, on her birthday. This was because the cake was moon-shaped. They would also place candles on it because the moon also shines, and the candles represented that light.

As time marched on, the tradition of celebrating with cake, or a similar sweet treat, spread to other cultures. The Romans, for instance, adopted the custom but with their own twist – they included not only honey but also nuts and dried fruits in their birthday confections.

Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and birthday cakes were still evolving. In medieval Europe, sugar became a luxurious commodity, and only the wealthy could afford to indulge in sugary birthday treats. These early cakes were often enriched with exotic spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg, which were considered precious.

Now, let’s jump ahead a few more centuries to the 18th century, where birthday cake traditions really started to resemble what we enjoy today. In Germany, they began baking sweet, yeasted bread with a topping of sugar and dried fruits. This practice eventually gave birth to the concept of “birthday cake.”

But it was the Industrial Revolution that truly transformed birthday cakes into what we know and love. Advances in technology made ingredients like baking powder more accessible, leading to lighter and fluffier cakes. And with the advent of mass-produced candles, our cakes started to shine even brighter.

So there you have it, folks, a slice of history about why we indulge in birthday cake. From the ancient Greeks and their symbolic plakous to the sweet, modern masterpieces we devour today, cake has always been a symbol of celebration, good fortune, and the sweet moments in life.

Next time you blow out your birthday candles and dig into that scrumptious cake, remember that you’re participating in a tradition that spans millennia, connecting you to people from ancient Greece and beyond.