How Birthday Cakes in the Philippines and the World Evolved

In the entirety of the world and even here in the Philippines, a birthday cake is a type of cake  prepared, created, and served in order to be eaten on occasions that serve to celebrate a person’s birthday. Even though this is considered as a type of cake, over the years, a variety of types have stemmed down from the simple birthday cake in order to better serve the preference of the person celebrating their birthday. The most typical birthday cakes around the world are, of course, the traditional birthday cake, cupcakes, tarts, a variety of pastries, and cake pops. Although a universally accepted format of a birthday cake does not exist, there are a variety of “flavors” or standards in which a birthday cake is served. This typically includes vanilla, chocolate, and fruit (usually strawberry) flavored cakes which are baked in myriad shapes, sizes, and designs. The most common birthday cakes are traditionally decorated using only one color or, to make the celebrant astounded, multiple colors using icing or fondant.


Vanilla, chocolate, ice cream, cheese – hundreds upon hundreds of types of birthday cakes are made here in the Philippines and around the world. Each of them has a way to enter the consumer’s heart through a sweeter and more delectable way. Chances are, you have eaten a birthday cake at least once in your life, and hopefully, you have had a birthday cake for all your birthdays. But while you take a bite of your favorite type of cake, have you ever stopped and wondered how this all came to be? How you, an innocent person celebrating their birthday, is able to enjoy a widely acknowledged tradition around the world. How this one tradition stood against that test of time and was eventually accepted and loved around the world?


It is widely acknowledged that a party is not complete without a complementing birthday cake to go with it. However, as mentioned earlier, have you ever wondered why this is such a widespread belief in almost all corners of the world? Of course, a lot of people are avid fanatics of birthday cakes but this is not the sole reason why the birthday cake is a staple in almost all birthday parties in the Philippines and the whole world. But do you know how all the traditions for a birthday celebration – the singing, candle blowing, the wish-making, and the last but not the least, the cake began?


The History of Birthday Cakes

Birthday cakes have been an integral and important part of birthday celebrations in the Western European countries since the 19th century. However, the correlation between birthday and cakes may have come from the ancients times. From ancient Egypt to Ancient Rome, the link between these two are more complicated than what people make it out to be.

Historically, the ancient Egyptians were the ones that are believed to start the celebration of birthdays. It is believed that whenever their pharaohs were crowned in front of the population, that was the time when they achieved godhood and became one of the gods. This means that their coronation was one of the most sacred and important events in all of ancient Egypt. During their coronation, luxurious and grand banquets were prepared to celebrate the “birth” of their pharaoh as a god.

However, in classical Roman culture, what they knew as “cakes” were sometimes prepared and served at birthdays of special individuals and weddings. The cake that Ancient Romans knew were flat circles that were compose of flour and nuts, sweetened with honey, and leavened with yeast. This begs the question that did the preparation and serving of cakes on special occasions come from the Romans.

Ancient Greeks borrowed the tradition, but rightfully realized that a dessert would make the celebration all the more meaningful. So they baked moon-shaped cakes to offer up to Artemis, goddess of the moon, as tribute. They decorated them with lit candles to make the cakes shine like the moon.


Origin Theories of the Candle Lighting

Greek origin story

One hypothesis, which was mentioned above, clarifying the practice of putting candles on birthday cakes is credited to the early Greeks, who utilized candles to respect the goddess Artemis’ introduction to the world on the 6th day of each lunar month.The connection between her oversight of fertility and the birthday custom of candles on cakes, be that as it may, has not proven to be related.

Pagan origin story

The use of flames in specific rituals goes back to the formation of altars and holy places. Meaning that birthday candles hold symbolic power.

In the past, it was trusted that evil spirits visited individuals on their birthday, and that, to keep the individual safe, guests would usually surround the individual and make them cheerful. Gathering guest made clamor and noise to frighten off the evil spirits.

Swiss origin story

A reference to the custom of extinguishing the candles was archived in Switzerland in 1881. Researchers for the Folk-Lore Journal recorded different “superstitions” among the Swiss middle class. One explanation depicted a birthday cake as having lit candles which compare to the person’s years of life. These candles were required to be extinguished, independently, by the individual who is being praised.

Contemporary Times

Back in the 15th century, German bakeries started to prepare, make, and market single layered cakes for their customer’s birthday celebrations rather than only making and marketing their cakes for weddings and other occasions. This became the start of modern birthday cakes that made the entire world follow suit. Cakes during those times were originally a coarse, bread-like product, and later transitioned to become a much sweeter version, called Geburtstagorten.

However, it took a long two centuries before the birthday cake took the form that we know today – its contemporary form. The 17th century heralded the start of elaborate and sophisticated birthday cakes possessing numerous aspects of the modern birthday cake such as multiple layers, the incorporation of icing between the layers and around the cake, and decorations around the cake for aesthetic appeal. The problem during those times were that these types or forms of cakes were only made available to the very wealthy people of Germany due to the high-price of the ingredients that bakers used to make the birthday cake.  However, these cakes were only available to the very wealthy.It is believed that the first actual birthday cake was made in Germany in the Middle Ages. The Germans would celebrate children’s birthdays with cake, calling the celebration Kinderfest.

In today’s culture, modern birthday parties are believed to have been derived from a German birthday celebration practice back in the 18th century called Kinderfeste. This practice involves giving a child a cake with candles that amount to their current age with an additional candle signifying another addition to the child’s age on the morning of their birthday.  The Germans believed that this additional candle was the “light of life” that represented the parents’ hope of their child living another year that will be fully lived. Then, they experience one of the hardest things they can ever go through. They can only eat the birthday cake AFTER dinner. As the day goes by, the candles should be lit at all costs. If the candle has burned out, the family replaces it dutifully. Finally, when the moment comes that they can finally eat the birthday cake, the child whose birthday it is, should blow out all of the candles with just one breath while making their wish, then they proceed to eat the cake. Much like the modern tradition, the birthday boy or girl would not tell anyone the wish they made so that it would always come true.

Since the ingredients to make cakes were pretty expensive, this birthday custom did not become popular worldwide until the Industrial Revolution. More ingredients were available, which made them cheaper, and bakeries even started selling pre-baked cakes.

Today, the cake, pastry, or dessert is served to the person celebrating their birthday. Another practice that survived the test of time and is still practiced today is the blowing of candles.

Unlike before, the standards of birthday cakes has changed so much that they became non-existent. Some people would like their birthday cake to be grand, tall, elegant, etc. While some would like it simple, scrumptious, small. However, the practice that is part of a birthday cake and celebration is the singing of the “Happy Birthday” song. This is true for English-speaking countries while other countries sing the “happy Birthday” song in their native language. The tradition of greeting the birthday boy or girl with the phrase “Happy BIrthday” did not become popular until the song “Happy Birthday to You” was released and popularized in the early 1900s. Different variation for the birthday song exists all around the world, which includes:

  • Uruguay – Guests in the birthday celebration touch the birthday celebrant’s head or shoulders while they sing the birthday song.
  • Ecuador – Even before the birthday cake is served to the guests, the birthday celebrant will take a large bite out of it before the serving starts.
  • Peru – Guests sing the “Happy Birthday to You” first in English with the name of the individual whose birthday it is, then in Spanish, later they sing any other song in Spanish regarding cake or date, finally, the celebrant blows the candles and serves the cake.


The birthday cake is frequently improved with the use of little candles, anchored with exceptional holders or is simply pushed down into the cake. The cake can likewise be presented with different desserts, for example, frozen yogurt or ice cream. In the UK, North America and Australia, the quantity of candles is equivalent to the age of the person whose birthday it is, at times with one additional for good fortune. Customarily, the individual whose birthday it is makes a wish, which is thought to work out if every one of the candles are doused in one breath.

To share and propagate the feeling of delight and a feeling of harmony, the cake is shared among every one of the visitors going to the gathering.

In different cultures, there are numerous varieties of desserts which are eaten during birthday celebrations. The Chinese birthday baked good is the shòu bāo or shòu táo bāo, a lotus-paste filled bun made of wheat flour and molded & colored to take after a peach. As opposed to serving one large baked good, every visitor is served their own little shou bao. In Korea, the conventional birthday dish is seaweed soup. In Western Russia, birthday youngsters are served fruit pies with a carving of birthday greetings on its crust. The Swedish birthday cake is made like a pound cake that is frequently finished with marzipan and is usually designed with the national flag. Dutch birthday baked goods are fruit tarts finished with whipped cream. In India there are not very many individuals who utilize birthday festivities in the villages, yet in urban communities and towns, birthday cakes are utilized the same way the western countries do it, particularly among individuals with higher education.

What was once just a simple pastry is now a world of complex varieties and flavors. Some of the most popular flavors include red velvet with cream cheese frosting, vanilla bean with buttercream frosting and the classic chocolate on chocolate. Mmm, we’re getting hungry now! The next time you’re happily celebrating a birthday with friends and family, think back on the long history of this fun and interesting tradition.


Canvas Cake Studio: The Philippines’ Birthday Cake Experts

With almost 10 years of creating customized and sophisticated birthday cakes in the Philippines, our studio is one of the Philippines’ most trusted makers of birthday cakes any other pastry needs. Cupcakes? Cakes? Baked Goods? We can do it all. Quality service and excellent craftsmanship – that is what we believe in whenever we create our clients’ desired products.


As artist-bakers, we are dedicated to bringing our clients’ dream cakes to life. With enough time, we can do it! You can expect dedication, passion, and creativity from us – our products embody these values and it makes us happy whenever we see our clients’ smiling faces when they take their first bite out of the cakes that we have made.


Interested? Let us, Canvas Cake Studio, the Philippines’ Birthday Cake experts, bring your birthday dreams to life. Contact us here and let’s make the most magical birthday cake you have ever seen!


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