My birthday was last week. I’m floating in Starbuck’s gift cards (hooray!) and the UPS guy will be delivering Amazon boxes for many weeks to come. My family knows me–Starbuck’s and Amazon are my two favorite things and I like gift cards. Add in Half Price Books and I’m all set for a while. .
My family is pretty low key with birthdays. There’s an unofficial seven-day grace period for late cards, and we get together for cake on whatever day we can all manage. This year I found myself wondering about some of these traditions.
The Happy Birthday Song–The tune was written in 1893 by two sisters–Mildred J. Hill and Patty Smith Hill. It was originally published in a book called Song Stories for the Kindergarten and was called “The Good Morning Song.” The original lyrics were “Good Morning to All . . .” These lyrics morphed into “Good Morning To You” and then to the birthday tune we all know.
Birthday Cakes–Birthday cakes go back to ancient Greece, but no butter cream roses! The Greeks celebrated with honey cakes or bread baked. So did the ancient Romans. The custom continued into the middle ages, particularly in Germany and England. In England, cakes were baked with small objects inside–things like coins and thimbles. The coin was considered lucky and a sign of future wealth. The thimble? Not so good . . . whoever found the thimble was destined to never marry. (I have to wonder how many people choked on coins and thimbles…)
Birthday candles–The Greeks decorated moon-shaped cakes with candles. It was believed the smoke carried messages to the god named Artemis. In Germany in the middle ages, the candle custom shifted a bit. Instead of many candles, one big candle stood in the center of the cake. It was marked with the years 1-12 to signify a child growing up, and the candle was saved and used every year.
That’s a lot nicer than the standard gag in our household . . . You know those candles that reignite after you blow them out? You might get a whole cake covered with them, or there might be one or two mixed in with the regular candles. On top of the “eternal flame” motif, someone is usually ready to make a joke about the number of candles and the need for a fire extinguisher.
Birthday cards–If your family is like mine, it’s spread all over the country. Cards and phone calls are as much a part of a birthday celebration as cake and candles. Greeting cards have a long history, but cards similar to the ones we know today were first produced in the 1870s by a German immigrant named Louis Prang. The industry started with Christmas cards, endured a slump in the 1880s and 1890s, and came back at the turn of the century. Color was introduced to the printing process in the 1930s, and the “humor” angle became popular in the 1950s.
Who’s up for cyber cake and ice cream? What family traditions do you have? What’s your best birthday ever? Or the funniest?