Sunday 13 July 2014

The Light of Life

Today the salon rings with the sound of cheer, as we celebrate another birthday for my rakish colonial gentlemen with good food, company and gifts. At some point in the not too distant future the colonial gent will hopefully be joining me here at the Guide for an occasional foray into cinematic depictions of the long 18th century but for now, I present a little something on an 18th century birthday tradition.

A few years ago I spent a lovely holiday in Germany, a country that I fell for almost instantly. One day I shall return to that lovely land, steeped in rich history and all manner of wonderful traditions. It is from Germany that we first derive the use of candles on birthday cakes, where they were in use during the 18th century as part of Kinderfest, a celebration held to mark the birthdays of children.

A candle burning

Unlike today, when each birthday is celebrated individually, all children who shared a birthday and their families gathered for one communal celebration in a local public space. Though no gifts were exchanged except in the most extraordinary circumstances, warm wishes, prayers and blessings were brought by all who attended. 

Candles were used to adorn the cakes at these parties, with a candle around the outside of the cake for each year of the person's age and one in the middle too, intended to represent the light of the life. Written evidence for this tradition exists from the middle of the 18th century and though our German ancestors didn't blow out the candles, they certainly embraced the warmth and love with which we celebrate birthdays today.


Helena P. Schrader said...

I never knew this! Lovely. I especially like the "light of life" in the middle. I think I'll adopt that!

Catherine Curzon said...

Isn't it a lovely story?

Unknown said...

What a charming story. Of course, some of our Christmas traditions were brought over here by Prince Albert. I have spent several lovely holidays in Germany as well.

Catherine Curzon said...

I think I should visit again, such a lovely place!

WillowWinsham said...

A very Happy Birthday to your esteemed gentleman, and very interesting information on this tradition :)

Catherine Curzon said...

And a happy birthday to your own gentleman for yesterday too; clearly it's a good time of year for it!