Let them eat cake

My birthday is this week, and it made me think about the traditions we have surrounding the day.

I looked into the range of traditions around the world. It seems logical to celebrate another year of existence, but I had no idea there were so many ways to do it. 

This might give you some new party ideas:

Did you know…

• In the United Kingdom, you will get the “birthday bumps”, or getting “bumped” on the floor once for each year of your life (bounced on your bottom by friends who hold your arms and legs). Some say the reason was to chase bad spirits away, others say it balances all the recipient’s good wishes on their special day.
• A similarly odd gesture occurs in Hungary and Brazil: people will pull on the earlobes of the birthday boy or girl for good luck.
• If you celebrate your birthday in Vietnam, you do it with everyone else on “Tet” – New Year’s Day – no matter when you were actually born.
• We can thank the Germans for birthday cake as we know it today. The notion of cake has existed for thousands of years, but it was long more of a bread than a dessert.
At first cakes were only for the wealthy (they could afford the extravagant decoration) In the 1700s with the advent of technology that made production cheaper, such things were easier to afford. 
The German Kinderfest became popular, and it included having a sweet decorated cake for a child’s birthday celebration. If you live in Russia though, you’re more likely to have a birthday pie.
• In Mexico, they still celebrate on a child’s “Name Day” as well as their birthday date. The Name Day celebrations correlate with the saint whose name you have, and they are more low key than birthday parties.
• You know you’re supposed to make a wish when you blow out the candles, but why? Well, candles offer light, which help to chase away bad spirits (especially important since they are fond of luring children to the Dark Side).
For a long time the church banned candles on a cake, seeing them as blasphemy – candles should only be used to celebrate God, not any pagan traditions. (This is part of why Name Day celebrations were considered more appropriate with Christian traditions for centuries.)  
Blowing the candles out seems to go with the pagan rituals: perhaps representing a way to send the wish to the gods with the smoke, or even preventing any candles from going out on their own (a sure sign that evil spirits were nearby!) The accompanying cheering and merriment was another way to keep any evil from harming the child.
• Giving presents also goes back to pagan traditions of warding off bad spirits, especially for those susceptible children whose souls could be stolen if one was not vigilant. In India, children often get a new outfit of clothes.
In Germany, children don’t get any homework or chores to do on their birthdays. Children in Russia get gifts of books or other school supplies from teachers. In Vietnam they will get “lucky money” from their parents.

It seems that no matter where you live, if you celebrate your birthday it is a day when loved ones want to wish you well and offer you good wishes and tokens of good luck.

Many traditions are ones we may not understand (why would pulling on my earlobes be good luck ?) But since they have become part of the celebration, maybe it would be bad luck to not include them…. Better safe than sorry, right?

My favourite birthday tradition is having a coin in the cake. I loved the anticipation of seeing if I would get the piece that had the coin. (My mom was very diplomatic: she would put nickels in all over the cake, and one quarter, so no one left empty-handed.)

I thought my mom invented that tradition, but apparently it goes all the way back to Biblical times. It is said that the Wise Men couldn’t decide who should be the first to give a gift to Jesus, and so they asked a baker to bake them a loaf of bread with a bean.

Over time we have adapted things – the bean became a coin, the bread became a cake and the occasion became a birthday. The British popularized the custom in Medieval times, and it spread throughout the empire.

Maybe getting older I’m coming full circle and just pining for the simple joys of childhood again.

I’m not too concerned about getting fancy presents or having a big party… I’d just like to blow out the candles, and have a piece of cake with ice cream.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get a quarter.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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