Why Do We Eat Cake On Birthdays?

Happy birthday to you! Birthdays have become synonymous with some of the best things life has to offer: gifts, parties, balloons, music, and of course, cake. Birthday cake, in addition to being a bakery staple, has become a culinary icon all its own.

Birthday cake even has its own distinct scent and flavor, both of which have been replicated in a variety of items, including ice cream, cookies, candies, cereals, truffles... even protein shakes, cosmetics, and other indulgences. A classic mix of sweet batter, creamy frosting, and rainbow sprinkles, these celebratory pastries represent the sharing of joy and a sense of friendship and togetherness.

Batter-based layered cakes — which have an enormous range of recipes — have been eaten for centuries, according to NPR. But why, exactly, do we treat ourselves to cake on these special occasions? The symbolism of the birthday cake transcends time. Let's just say its alleged origins aren't as sweet as you may imagine.

Birthday cake is a centuries-old tradition with a sweet yet dark meaning

Candle-topped cakes have a long history, predating many of the modern birthday rituals we practice today. The ancient Greeks, for one, baked round, candlelit cakes to honor Artemis, the goddess of the moon, per Spoon University.

Fast-forward to the Middle Ages, when Germans first started partaking in Kinderfest, a festival dedicated to children. According to Taste of Home, German parents were concerned that the youth were more vulnerable to evil spirits on their birthdays. To foil this superstition, an extra candle was added to the child's birthday cake in hopes that they would live another year.

And then there's the tradition of blowing out all those colorful candles that represent the celebrant's age. You know the drill: relish in your loved ones' "Happy Birthday" choir, silently make a wish for the year ahead, and then extinguish the candles' flames with (ideally) a single hefty breath.

Why do we do this? Mental Floss explains that some ancient cultures believed smoke transported prayers up to the heavens. When life hands you cake, grab a slice and enjoy every crumb.