The History of the Birthday Cake

Did you know that the origin of cakes and candles was Ancient Greece? The Greeks made round/moon shaped cakes in order to honour Artemis, the goddess of hunting and the moon. Unfortunately for them these cakes were more like doughy bread than what we have now! They also decorated these cakes with candles as a representation of the glow of the moon. The Greeks believed that smoke acted as a vehicle for prayers and wishes to the gods, and that it would carry these messages to them in the skies. Many scholars believe that this is the origin of our modern day “make a wish” tradition. Overtime, a variety of cultures began to eat cakes for their taste and not to honour the goddess Artemis.


Three different styled wedding cakes courtesy of Contemporary Cake Designs

Cakes specifically related to celebrating birthdays of young children originated in Germany during the 1400’s (the celebration was called Kinderfest). This began as people used sweetened bread dough made in the shape of baby Jesus, in swaddling cloth, in order to commemorate his birthday. It was also during this time (the 17th century) that cakes started to have more elaborated decorations and layering; as well as alternate ingredients to make it taste sweeter. Before this, cakes were only really used for celebrations of weddings; however bakeries began to advertise them for birthdays too. Unfortunately only the wealthy could afford such extravagance due to the high pricing of the ingredients and equipment.

Although most scholars believe the candles on the cakes originate from Ancient Greece, some scholars believe it started in Germany, where a candle represented “the light of life”.

It wasn’t until the 18th century that ingredients and cooking instruments began to become more affordable and accessible to the lower classes. It was because of this that the price of cakes went down significantly and the quantity of cakes being sold rose.


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