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Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Slice Of Birthday Cake

NOTE: I am still looking for ideas for a new theme day for Thursdays, so if you have any ideas that you want to float my way, please post them in a comment on this blog entry.

In this blog entry, I thought that I would talk about something that is food-related. There was a couple of reasons why I opted to go this route.

The first reason is that I don't have a food themed theme day in my blog as of yet (and actually, now that I have written it down, that actually makes a very good theme day idea). Certainly, I've done blog entries on certain foods (Oreos, M&M's, Popsicles, etc), so this isn't much of a departure for me.

But I definitely wanted to do a blog entry on this particular topic because it certainly fits with what today is.

Today happens to be my nephew's 12th birthday (HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JOSH!!!), and as a result of that, I'm going to be talking about a particular food item that is present at almost all birthday celebrations.

Yes, this post is all about CAKE! THAT cake.

I mean this in BIRTHDAY cake!

In this blog entry, we're going to take a look at the history of birthday cakes, the symbolism that is associated with birthday cakes, and while we're on the subject, I'll talk about some of my own memories with birthday cakes as well. I wish I had pictures to show you, but the cakes were already half devoured by the time the pictures were shot. But, I'm a fairly descriptive person, so I think I can make it work.

(Even though in all actuality, my nephew would rather have a pumpkin pie instead of a birthday cake.)

So, how did the birthday cake come to be?

If we take a look back at classical Roman culture, many people baked cakes of flat rounds that were made with flour and contained nuts. The cakes were leavened with yeast and sweetened with honey, and for the most part were served at wedding feasts in Ancient Greece. But sometimes the cakes were used to celebrate special birthdays as well.

In the 15th century, many bakeries in Germany began to make one-layer cakes for customers to be used for the dual-purpose of weddings and birthdays, and it is this practice that many believe inspired the modern birthday cake. It took another two hundred years before the birthday cake took on its current look, though. The cakes that were constructed in the 17th century featured cake icing, multiple layers, and decorations...but back in those days, only the incredibly wealthy could afford it.

In other words, using the “Occupy Movement” terminology, only the 1% could afford frosted cakes...the 99% went without icing.

In fact, it wasn't until the Industrial Revolution that birthday cakes became more accessible to more people. With cake making and decorating tools becoming more advanced and easier to afford, birthday cakes became available to a larger section of the population. These days, a person can get a birthday cake for as low as ten bucks! Vive le progress!

So now that you know how birthday cakes came to be made, now comes the next part. Do you know how the tradition of putting birthday candles on a cake came to be? Well, I have the answer for all of you right here.

Apparently the tradition of placing candles on a birthday cake came from Ancient Greece as well. They used to put candles on cakes and lit them so that they would glow like the moon. It is also somewhat believed that the reason that the candles were lit because the smoke carried prayers from people to God.

Come to think of it, I wonder if that was how the tradition of blowing out the candles to make a wish was originated?

In most modern countries, the tradition of singing the song “Happy Birthday To You” is a common occurance, and is more or less the most widely accepted custom when it comes to serving birthday cakes. But depending on what nation you come from, these traditions can be tweaked a little. Take the nation of New Zealand, for example. After people in New Zealand sing “Happy Birthday”, it is tradition in that country to clap one time for each year that the person has lived, plus one extra clap for good luck. This would be fine if the person celebrating the birthday was a child...but if you were celebrating Grandma's 90th birthday, perhaps you might want to invest in a good hand lotion before following New Zealand's traditions!

That is about all that I have to say about the history of birthday cakes. I hope that you learned a little bit about how they came to be. I know I certainly did.

In my lifetime, I think I have managed to sample approximately 155 birthday cakes. Thirty-one of them were my own, and of course, I've also had slices of cake from the various birthday parties of family members and close friends. That's a lot of cakes.

And certainly, some cakes were better than others.

I think that my sister holds the record for having the most creative birthday cake designs of all time. When my sister turned nine, it was right around the time that “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” was popular, and my sister had a Star Wars themed cake. My sister claimed that it was a Darth Vader cake that she had, but looking at the faded snapshots from the early 1980s, I thought it looked more like R2D2.

But whatever cake she had back then didn't compare to a recent cake that she ended up having.

You see, back in July, my sister celebrated a milestone birthday. So, naturally, we had to do something very special for her. So a party was planned, and someone that my sister worked with arranged to have someone bake her an Oreo cookie cake that looked like a giant pink and black high heeled shoe!

(In case you were wondering, my sister has been trying to achieve the goal of having more shoes than Imelda Marcos since she was in her early teens.)

My cakes have been more or less perfect. There was one cake that I had three years ago that was completely covered in purple and blue icing (my two favourite colours) which was delicious! I also vaguely remember having a cake that had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle candles on was probably around the time that I had my ninth birthday and my birthday party was Ninja Turtle themed on account that the live-action movie had come out the month before.

(Wow...apparently it's common for my family to have themed birthdays whenever any of us turn nine. That's sort of freaky in a way.)

As far as the worst cake that I ever had went...well, it seems fitting that it would be for the worst birthday that I have ever had.

It was May 1995. I was all set to turn fourteen years old, and everything was going well. I was about to graduate from elementary school, and in just a few days, I would be off to my very first overnight field trip to Toronto. My fourteenth birthday was supposed to be a good one.

But then my mom and my sister both got sick and both needed operations. On one hand, they both made history, as they were a mother and daughter who both went in for surgery for the same procedure on the same day performed by the same doctor! It was the first time that had happened. I suppose in that sense, it was cool.

The problem was that the surgery date was May 16, 1995...two days before my fourteenth birthday.

So, needless to say, my mom and my sister were not able to celebrate my birthday with me, which was terrible. To make things even more worse, my mother's surgery was so complicated, she almost died. So, if anyone I attended school with during eighth grade noticed that I was in a horrible mood on my birthday and didn't want anyone to wish me a happy birthday back in 1995, you now know why. It wasn't a good time.

I didn't even have a party for my 14th birthday because of everything that was going on. My dad and my other sister were determined to make sure that I at least had a cake.

They went to the nearest supermarket, picked up a small store-bought chocolate cake and a tube of green icing (you know, those little tubes that you can find in the baking section of most supermarkets), and my sister attempted to write a birthday message on it.

It was supposed to say “Happy 14th Birthday, Matthew”. Instead, it read “HAPPY #^&WUUIYWIH*@&XZ(ZHA.”

Yeah, it wasn't pretty at all.

Looking back on it though, I do appreciate the fact that they made an effort to try to make the birthday seem normal, even though it was anything but. And, hey, at least it's a birthday celebration that I will never forget. How could I forget a chocolate cake with green squiggles all over it? My family really tried, and I really am grateful. I was just happy that my mom and sister survived their surgical procedures, and when it came time for my 15th birthday, they all really went out to make it up to me for the miserable time that I had during my 14th birthday.

So, now I open up the floor to you. What are some of your favourite birthday cake moments?

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