May Blog: 2021 - Let’s talk Birthdays
Hello and welcome to this month’s blog. I love the month of May - the promise of sunshine (although as I write this the wind is attempting to pick the garden furniture up), the promise of warmer weather (I’m wearing my thickest jumper) and do not forget the magic of bluebells nestling under trees on woodland walks.
As well as making wedding cakes, my diary has been flooded with birthday cake orders and while sipping my cup of Safi coffee I got to wondering where the idea of celebrating birthdays came from - and why on earth do we have candles that have to be blown out with a wish?
I got myself comfy - drank more Safi coffee and started reading… This is what I found - I do hope you find this interesting because I most definitely did.
The exact time that humans recognised birth dates is a tad hazy and by that, I mean unrecorded and vague, however there is lots of information available - so I have patched together some interesting finds for your perusal.
In the early days of mankind, means to tell the time were fairly limited and I doubt that making a birthday cake was much of a priority when chasing down a mammoth for dinner. However, it appears that the Egyptians were the first to recognise the importance of a birth date - 5000 ish years ago!
The Bible gives us the first reliable account of a birthday being recognised. In Genesis, the ancient text states that the Pharaoh was celebrating his birthday…
‘Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.’ — Genesis 40:20–22
In the scholarly world, there is a rumour that the date did not apply to the Pharaoh’s actual birth date - rather the date that he was crowned. The coronation date was hugely significant as it was believed that this was when the pharaoh left his human state and became a God. Something I most definitely would have liked to see. Anyway, as is the case for so much of our history and traditions, birthdays have deep roots in old Greek and Roman traditions.
These folks gave us the tradition of presents, candles, and the idea of holding a party - sadly, there is no actual date for when this started to happen - more of a blending of ideas that carved its way forward through time.
The ancient Greeks decided that fire was the perfect adornment for a cake that was moon-shaped to honour the Greek goddess of the moon, Artemis. Sweetened with honey, these cakes celebrated the monthly anniversary of her birthday and they believed that the smoke, following the blowing out phase of the celebration, took their prayers and hopes up to the sky for the Gods to hear.
The Romans added to this by assigning the date of a person's birth as cause to celebrate. However, only if you were male! It goes without saying that these celebrations were huge events with lots and lots of gifts.
The Greeks and Romans celebrated many days over their calendar, and all were events at which the gods and goddesses were recognised and paid tribute to. People, rich people began to celebrate in gatherings and share gifts, food, wine and wish their friends and family well. The Romans especially loved to party, and their calendar is littered with specific dates for festivals that were ‘days instituted for the sake of the gods’ - Marcus Terentius Varro (Roman scholar).
These festivities for one person were only for the rich - commoners only celebrated certain dates that fell in line with their status in life - but individual birthdays for all were on the horizon.
Thankfully for us birthday cake lovers, the Christians realised the importance of celebrations - after a dodgy start where they believed that festivals were a pagan tradition and should be banned - anyway, light dawned and the very first mention of Christmas is in 336 CE. This transformed attitudes towards celebrations - namely birthdays.
It took some time, but after Jesus got his birthday celebrated in December, saints got a mention too, monarchs used it as a great excuse to hold lavish tournaments (and be admired by their lowly subjects) the rest of us got a look in. The use of a universal calendar aided this progression, alongside the decline of rigid religious expectations and families started to celebrate their own birthdays instead of saints.
The next time your birthday comes round, remember that thousands of years ago people started to celebrate events in their personal lives - adding candles to cake and throwing parties to enjoy.
I’d best talk about cake...
Making birthday cakes is where it all happened for me - with my children in our kitchen creating whacky designs and then being asked to do the neighbours, friends, families - friends of all the above. It was great fun and I loved being able to supply what people wanted.
Designing each cake takes time and it is this preparation that I really like working on. Coming up with new ideas and then watching it all develop before my eyes. Making cake is a very cathartic experience - well it can be as long as all goes to plan!
Pictures of the standard birthday cakes are waiting on the website for you to see - I do make bespoke celebration cakes and am happy to discuss any requirements you may have. Costs will vary depending on the size and design of the cake.
And so, to end - thank you all for accompanying on this ramble back in time. I wish you all a pleasant month of May with some much-needed sunshine, restaurant outings and family time.
Remember, the only real way to start or finish any weekend is with a Tree House Brownie and a cup of Safi ground coffee.
‘Eating a brownie really is like wrapping a soft, cashmere blanket around your shoulders.’