Birthdays are great fun. We celebrate the birthdays of our dear ones with presents, cakes and candles.
But it was not always the case. In ancient times, lathough, birthdays were noted but the celebration was only for the Gods and the noble people and that too was not like an every year affair like now.
Birthday parties accompanied with blowing candles on a cake, as we know them today, appeared much later in history. These rituals, however, are rooted in some ancient traditions, so let’s trace their origin.
The first ever know account of birthday ceremony that resembles today’s classic birthday celebration comes from the Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BCE). He wrote about the Persians and how they loved to celebrate their birthdays which were presumably accompanied by cake eating.
“Of all the days in the year, the one which they celebrate most is their birthday. It is customary to have the board furnished on that day with an ampler supply than usually. The richer Persians are served with a whole-baked ox, horse, camel or an ass.
Another early mentioning of a ritual similar to a birthday party comes from the Book of Genesis (40:20-22)
20 And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants.
21 And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand:
22 But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them.
The event described above refers to the Pharaoh’s coronation and his rebirth as a god instead of his actual birth. Whatever the case, this sounds like a bad party, with the baker being hanged, probably because he didn’t make a cake…
The fire has always contributed to rituals. No wonder birthday candles have been attributed with granting wishes. Candles are often used during meditations, in general.
The Ancient Greeks used to give the goddess Artemis a cake with candles as an offering.
Artemis was the the goddess of moon and the cakes were often shaped like this celestial body. That’s why the cakes are mostly shaped round. They also believed that the candle smoke would help Artemis hear all the prayers while they ascended to her domain.
In Ancient Rome, birthday celebrations were nobles’ privilege. When somebody from the higher ranks of the Roman society turned 50, considered as a significant milestone in life, it was common for his friends and family to throw that person a party (feast) and surprise them with a nice, sweet cake. However, in Rome, the cake was served without candles.