It seems a bit strange to imagine ancient Greeks celebrating their birthdays with layered cakes topped with flaming candles. However, it's usually this image that comes to mind when it's suggested that they're the ones who first came up with the idea to do so - even though it looked entirely different. The first birthday cakes were nothing of what they are today and weren't even called 'birthday cakes.' Rather, they were symbolic of an elite class who could afford to celebrate with something sweet, which is how cake became associated with special occasions.


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As time went on, more cultures adopted this same idea, and during the Middle Ages, cakes were at their peak in terms of how symbolic they were during celebratory gatherings. Despite that, having cake at a party or social event wasn't widespread until the Industrial Revolution, when the ingredients to do so became affordable - and widely available - for everyone. So, how is it that one of the renowned ancient cultures the world has ever seen was responsible for something so seemingly child-like and innocent?

Ancient Greece And Its Goddess Devotion

The idea behind the original cake as we know it is actually quite sweet and not at all what one would expect. While the ancient Greeks weren't calling it a birthday cake back then, it was a cake made out of devotion and respect for the goddess of the moon, Artemis. Everything about the cake, from its shape to the candles that were placed on top of it, was done with Artemis, and the moon, in mind.

The shape of the cake wasn't happenstance, it was baked in a circle to mimic the moon and its round shape as it would have appeared to the Greeks. Additionally, the candles on top were symbolic of the light given off by the moon, added with the intention of creating the same reflective surface that is seen from earth. This creative streak was not unusual for Greece but little did they know, this idea of a round cake and a light source would soon be adopted by many cultures, throughout many time periods.

Ancient Rome Had Their Own Celebrations

It wasn't just the ancient Greeks who were celebrating with sweet cakes. Ancient Rome also had their traditions and it's believed that the original birthday cake came from this. Rather than just celebrating birthdays, though, ancient Rome was known for celebrating all things with a cake including weddings. These cakes were made with honey, flour, nuts, and yeast, but there was an exception - the birthdays celebrated were only for men who were citizens, and they had to be famous.

Women's birthdays weren't celebrated until the 12th century, according to Food & Wine, so it was not a privilege rewarded to everyone by ancient Rome. Interestingly enough, men's 50th birthdays were often celebrated more than any other - unlike in Germany centuries later when children would be the first to have their birthdays celebrated.

Middle-Age Germany Was Responsible For The Modern-Day Birthday Cake

Germany inherited the art of cake-baking and used the same idea to celebrate children's birthdays. Originally starting as a way to give a child something sweet on the day of their birth, plus a little something extra. The cake was made in a similar way as the ancient Greeks had done it, with the exception of the candles. Rather than adding them at random to imitate Mother Nature, candles were added according to the age of the child.

The bit of extra magic was added with an extra candle, which was symbolic of the year ahead - therefore, a candle for each year of a child's age plus one for the future. This celebration was called Kinderfeste, and it did include many of the same traditions we use today, with the exception that the candles were not blown out - they were left to burn until dinner, as cakes were given to children in the morning.

Cakes Weren't Available To Everyone... Until This Happened

Sadly, although cakes were eaten in Germany in celebration of children getting older, it was not something that was available to the rest of the world... yet. During the Middle Ages, cake, and anything sweet and dessert-like, came with a much higher price.

The price tag attached was something that many could not afford and the only people who could were those in higher classes. It wasn't until the Industrial Revolution, when ingredients and supplies were made en masse, that more people could afford to bake desserts such as cakes.

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