The birthday cake has been an integral part of the birthday celebrations in Western cultures since the middle of the 19th century. Certain rituals and traditions, such as singing of birthday songs, associated with birthday cakes are common to many Western cultures.
The Western tradition of adding lit candles to the top of a birthday cake originates in 18th-century Germany. However, the intertwining of cakes and birthday celebrations stretch back to the Ancient Romans.
The development of the birthday cake has followed the development of culinary and confectionery advancement. While throughout most of Western history, these elaborate cakes in general were the privilege of the wealthy, birthday cakes are nowadays common to most Western birthday celebrations. Around the world many variations on the birthday cake, or rather the birthday pastry or sweets, exist.
In classical Roman culture, ‘cakes’ of flat rounds made with flour containing nuts, leavened with yeast, and sweetened with honey were occasionally served at special birthdays, but more often at weddings as in Ancient Greece.
In early Europe, the words for cake and bread were virtually interchangeable; the only difference being that cakes were sweet while bread was not. In the 15th century, bakeries in Germany conceived the idea of marketing one-layer cakes for customers’ birthdays as well as for only their weddings, and thus the modern birthday cake was born.
During the 17th century, the birthday cake took on more or less its contemporary form. However, these elaborate cakes, which possessed many aspects of contemporary cakes (such as multiple layers, icing, and decorations), were only available to the very wealthy.