17 - 01 - 2019

Cutting A B’Day Cake

It was the most special day on 50 fabulous years. There was so much love from the candles to lights, balloons, gifts and wishes from near to my heart & dear to me that made me feel like on cloud nine.

The celebration was cool until my little nephew ‘Dhunu’ refused to cut the cake. We cut a cake since a birthday without a cake is incomplete. But I wondered lately, why do we cut a cake on birthday or where did this tradition originate from?

Tthe cakes were occasionally served as a gesture on the occasion of a special birthday or a wedding ceremony in Roman culture. During the 15th century, Germany had tradition of one-layered cakes for birthdays as well as wedding. Later in the 17th century, the contemporary birthday cakes like multi-layered, icing, and decorations gave a more refreshing look. But they were for the Richie rich. The British led the way of transformation after the Industrial Revolution 1780. With the abundance of the ingredients, the cakes became accessible to the lower class as well. The western European countries started celebrating in the mid of the 19th century.

With the tradition of birthday cakes, the candles on the cake followed suit. The Greeks lightened the candles to honour the birth of God. The Pagans believed fire as a symbolic power that protect from the evil spirit around. The family and friends make the person merry by making noises to keep away the spirit. German children called Kinder-fest celebrate birthday during 18th century. Later in time, people started bringing flowers as a birthday gift.  The tradition of blowing candles was documented in Switzerland in 1881. It is also believed that the birthday person makes a wish before blowing out the candles.

The song “happy birthday to you” became popular by the English speaking countries in the early 1900s and the phrase happy birthday started getting written on cakes. The Chinese guests are served with a small piece instead of serving one large cake. They are served fruit pies with greetings for western Russia. The Swedish made pond cake with a topping of their national flag decorated. In India, people residing in villages don't often celebrate their birthdays but urban people do similar to that in western country. 

My childhood celebration to birthday was totally different. Our mother offered Prasad for every occasion. God, prayers and wishes are stronger faith and belief. Eating food before offering it to God is forbidden. There was no such celebration other than a prayer. That tradition continued until the new arrival, a baby girl to our family. Babies cried a lot to communicate. Beyond homemade cakes my wife Matu prepared from sweet-mixture to cola-ice-cream and puri-sabji dinner. But children learned a different taste while in school. As soon as our daughter ‘Pakhi’ reached St. Mary’s Kindergarten, the whole things changed from prayer to cake culture. A gift of “a packet of books’ was being delivered at mid night. From fancy dress to caring chocolate, my teenage daughter even tried ballroom dancing with her bosom friends. Wishes from snooze to nudges have been inboxed. Smartphone become more powerful than human touch. Even we parents trapped into western tradition that continuing from centuries.

 We literally accepted it as a silent observer. Our days were probably out of date. The birthday comes every year. We cut a cake and accustomed to celebrate. But four years little nephew had made my birthday to ponder. It gave me a thought to question of what rebuff to cut the decorated cake.  Birthday cakes are designed by love. Children love to play with it. Interestingly kids eat when they are not hungry. Their preferences are for playing with the cake and not the plates of yummies. Probably my nephew cried while it was cut for the celebration. People around the world find this tradition a mandate for birthdays, no wonder why we have been cutting cakes, making wishes and blowing candles ever since childhood.

 The party will keep evolving through time according to comfort level. Recently we had birthday for brother-in-law Dr Alex. Uber Eats ordered surprisingly for us.  There are reasons to be incredibly excited about the future that changed our lives. The workplace cake culture might fuel obesity and poor oral health. Email has largely replaced physical mail. Soon consumer Drone would deliver physical packages on a celebration day. Faster internet like Google Fiber, Starry would promise to meet our distant friend closer together on a special day. Virtual reality headsets could transport us around the world without spending on plane ticket. And birthday would be more exciting. Those illusions look just as real world and we have to accept it anyway. Dhunu complained of not celebrating a Cake on 2nd October B’Day. 14 November comes closer. Come what may, I have some wishes for my nephew as he grows up.


Kamal Baruah