Friday, March 30, 2012

Make a Wish, and Blow Out the Candles!

The other day I celebrated my birthday, a landmark year, in fact, and it was filled with happy surprises and unexpected gifts. I truly was a wonderful day in every way. One of the lovely surprises was a dinner especially for me, given by my dearest daughter and her wonderful husband in their warm, friendly and gracious home. My daughter is a "18th-Century-o-Phile", if there is such a word, and she always makes every celebration picture-perfect, with special touches you hardly ever see anymore. She loves the formal table setting, with special serving pieces, and silverware for all the courses! We were, of course, in casual dress, but the setting warranted some satin ballgowns and perhaps a powdered wig or two!

The Dinner Menu included homemade organic pea soup with creme fraiche, salmon en croute, fennel and apple salad, and a lovely buttercreme birthday cake with peach preserves! Just look at the pictures below, and tell me, is that not special!

I looked into the traditional American birthday of the 18th Century, and found it resembled our modern celebrations, though sometimes it was given political significance or it honored an extraordinary person. These aristocratic celebrations bore the mark of luxury, while a working class individual's event, was more "homespun", so to speak, but still displayed the same amount of heart. A ball might have been scheduled for the luxurious party, where perhaps in a modest home, someone played the fiddle.  There was always the gift to be opened! If you were Puritan or Quaker, though, there was no party at all, as it was considered a pagan ritual.

The Western tradition of adding lit candles to the top of a birthday cake originates in 18th-century from Greece! In ancient times, Greeks used to take the cake to the temple of Artemis.  Some say the candles were placed on the cake because people believed that the smoke of the candles helped raise prayers to the gods. In the 18th Century, with the revival of Neo-classisism, the tradition was revived.

Though the exact origin of the candle blowing ritual is unknown, the placing of candles atop the cake is well documented. Check this out:

"This tradition can be traced to Kinderfest (Kinder is the German word for 'children'), an 18th century German birthday celebration for children. A letter written in 1799 by Goethe recounts: "...when it was time for dessert, the prince's entire livery...carried a generous-size torte with colorful flaming candles - amounting to some fifty candles - that began to melt and threatened to burn down, instead of there being enough room for candles indicating upcoming years, as is the case with children's festivities of this kind..."

So, there you have it!
Birthdays can, though shouldn't, be stressful. They are an acknowledgement of hopefully gaining wisdom through the years, and acceptance of who we truly are. When celebrated with loving friends and family, how can you not like your special day! I am thrilled to be (?). Ha Ha. I may be happy to have celebrated my birthday, but not everyone needs to know how very wise I am!

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