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During the Middle Ages, birthdays weren’t celebrated mostly because of the early Catholic beliefs that these celebrations are pagan and pose a threat to Christianity.

Besides all of the above-mentioned ancient rituals which are similar to birthday celebrations, here’s an actual reference to modern birthdays and birthday cakes! German bakers from the 15th century started selling special one-layer birthday cakes, mostly to parents who were celebrating their children’s first birthday.

Further evidence shows that this tradition continued up until 18th-century Germany when candles were also added to the cakes. This version of the birthday celebration was called Kinderfest (children’s festival). This tradition was the predecessor of modern children birthday party.

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During Kinderfest, children were taken to a ceremony hall where they were free to celebrate their birthday. Germans believed that evil spirits could steal people’s soul during birthdays.

To protect the person celebrating, they used to make a circle around him and carouse. Gifts were not a birthday tradition back in those days. It was enough if the guests expressed their good wishes for the person that was celebrating. In case somebody brought a gift it was considered as a good sign for the upcoming year of the birthday person.

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Now let’s get back to the cake and candles. One of the earliest records of candles used on a birthday cake dates from 1746 when a large celebration was held for Count Ludwig von Zinzendor’s birthday. One of his guests described the following:

“There was a cake as large as any oven to bake it in, and holes made in the cake according to the years of the person’s age, each one with a candle stuck into it, and one in the middle”.

Almost 50 years later, Prince August of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg described his own birthday party:

“…a generous-size torte with colorful flaming candles – amounting to some fifty candles – that began to melt and threatened to burn down, instead of having enough room for candles which indicate upcoming years, as in the case with children’s festivities”.

These notes show that according to the old tradition, there were candles for each year of the person’s life. Besides this, more candles were added to mark the upcoming years of the person.

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Featured image courtesy: hswstatic.com


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