The History of Birthday Cakes and Candles


No birthday is complete without a little something sweet—and that’s especially true when it comes to birthday cake. But how did this quintessential celebration staple come about? And who decided that putting candles on top of it would make it all the more celebratory?

In Ancient Greece, round cakes and candles were used to honor Artemis, goddess of the moon. The cakes were decorated to look like the moon, and the candlelight made them glow just as the goddess did. But the cakes were expensive, so they could only be enjoyed by the upper class. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, however, food and baking utensils became more widespread. This allowed bakeries to make more elaborate cakes with detailed icing and layers that could be afforded by the middle class.

As the popularity of birthday cakes grew, the custom of writing a message on the cake also developed. Originally it was just happy birthday, but now we see messages of all sorts on cakes: from simple ones such as “Happy Birthday, love,” to more elaborate ones such as “From the bottom of my heart, I wish you a lifetime of happiness.”

Aside from the icing, the biggest factor in the appearance of a birthday cake is the number of candles on it. Traditionally, as a person blows out the candles, they make a wish. This tradition dates back to ancient times, when a person’s wish was believed to be granted only if it was blown out completely in one breath.

What is it about birthday cake flavor that has everyone so obsessed? Is it the fact that it is bright and cheery, just like a birthday? Or is it that it’s a comforting, nostalgic flavor that reminds you of being young and carefree?

Whatever the reason, birthday cake flavor is a flavor that’s experienced waves of popularity during periods of stress and unrest. It helped put Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi on the map, when she created her famed Funfetti-inspired cake in 2008; it’s become a favorite of people seeking a sweet, colorful treat during this flu pandemic.

But birthday cake flavors aren’t just for cakes, they can also be found in candy bars, ice creams, and even yogurt. Last year, Airheads released a limited-edition birthday cake-flavored candy bar that had the same texture as its classic slap bracelet shape. And in 2020, Kit Kat released a limited-edition version of its signature chocolate bars, coated with “birthday cake flavored creme.”

There’s no single definition of what birthday cake flavors are, but it is generally understood to be vanilla infused with confectioner’s sugar and made extra-festive through the use of rainbow sprinkles or multicolored “funfetti,” topped with a buttercream frosting. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and cheerful, just like a birthday! So next time you’re enjoying a piece of birthday cake, take a moment to think about all of the wishes you have made throughout the years. And then remember that you only get this treat once a year—so be sure to enjoy every bite! birthday cake