Who Came Up With This Idea of Birthday Cake?

Narrator:  Hey, Smarty Pants. What is the best day of the year? I mean the absolute best. You might be thinking of a classic holiday like Halloween or Christmas, but those are celebrated by lots of people. What about a day devoted entirely to the awesomeness of you? Of course, I’m talking about your birthday. And for many people, a birthday just wouldn’t be complete without balloons, Presents, a cake and family and friends singing that classic birthday song. Who let the dogs out?

No the other classic birthday song. That’s better the Happy Birthday song. Because what kid isn’t happy about their birthday? In fact, some people claim the entire month as their birthday month and why not? A super special thing happened on your birthday? You were born. One minute. No, you, the next minute you.

Amazing. But did you ever stop to think, why do we celebrate birthdays? What would happen if we got rid of the candles, the cake, and the singing, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to, What if we lost the presents and popped the balloons? What if nobody came to celebrate? Or even worse, just one uninvited guest showed up.

Evil Spirit:  Happy birthday.

Narrator:  Who are you?

Evil Spirit:  Who me? I’m just an evil spirit here to spook your birthday,

Narrator:  Right? Hundreds of years ago, people thought evil spirits would show up when they turned a year older.

Evil Spirit:  Yes. And I’ve brought you a present, Bad luck.

Narrator:  Awesome. According to legend, villagers would come visit people on their birthdays to make a lot of noise and scare away evil spirits. Some say that’s how birthday parties began.

Evil Spirit:  Scare me. I’m an evil spirit. I scare you.

Narrator:  Of course, there is no scientific evidence that evil spirits visit people on their birthdays, not hundreds of years ago, and definitely not today.

Evil Spirit:  Fine, I’m going, but I’ll be back.

Narrator:  Whatever. So Smarty Pants. Now you know why we have birthday parties, but what about the other traditions? Why do we have cakes and candles and balloons? What’s the story behind the happy birthday song and what month has the most birthdays? Could it be yours? It’s time for another whiff of science and history on.

Who Smarted?.  Who Smarted?. Who Smart? Is it you? Is it me? Is it science or history? Listen up everyone. We make smarting. Lots of fun on Who’s smarted.

Narrator:  Ever since you were born, one day a year has been set aside to celebrate you the day of your birth, a.k.a your birthday. Around the world, people celebrate birthdays very differently. In China, a person celebrating a birthday slurps up a bunch of long noodles to symbolize a long life. In Ireland birthday, boys and girls are held upside down and their heads are bumped on the floor once for every year they’ve been alive plus one for good luck. In Canada, friends might smash butter on a birthday celebrant’s nose. While in Brazil it’s tradition to throw eggs and flour at the birthday boy or girl, essentially making them into a cake.

Speaker 4:  No, don’t eat me.

Narrator:  While there are many ways to celebrate a birthday today, years ago, people didn’t really mark the day they were born. In fact, many people didn’t even know their age. Smarty pants, take a guess. How long ago were the first birthday celebrations?

A-Over 3000 years ago,

B-Aaround 1000 years ago, or

C-Around 200 years ago.

While the modern birthday celebration evolved around 200 years ago, people have been marking birthdays for  A-Over 3000 years. Ancient Egyptians are said to be the first to celebrate birthdays, but they didn’t actually celebrate somebody’s birth. Their celebrations marked the day a person became a pharaoh or ruler, so unless you were a super powerful Egyptian Pharaoh no birthday for you but even the Pharaohs didn’t get cakes lit with candles on their birthdays. The ancient Greeks came up with that idea as they celebrated a certain goddess or ancient superhero. This goddess was the goddess of the moon named Artemis. And the ancient Greeks thought some food would make her celebration even more special.

Speaker 4:  My dear Artemis, in honor of your glorious beauty, I bring you this dead fish.

Artemis: What? That’s it. A stinky dead fish. Am I not worthy of better food?

Speaker 4:  Forgive me, I’d throw you a pizza party, but pizza hasn’t been invented yet.

Artemis: How about something sweet, something that reflects the sweetness of me.

Speaker 4:  Good idea. Your highnesses don’t move. I’ll be right back

Artemis: On the moon. I’ll be here all night.

Speaker 4:  Taadaa, for you, my highness, a scrumptious cake to match your beauty.

Artemis: Really? That’s it.

Speaker 4:   Yes. Look at it. It’s a circle shaped like you, my wonderful moon.

Artemis: I see, but this boring cake, it symbolizes lots of circular things. The wheel, a table, a shield, tomatoes, nana has magnificent as me. After all, I light up the night sky.

Speaker 4:  Yes, light great idea. If I put candles on the cake and light them, the cake will glow just like you. Now it’s a party.

Artemis: But where is everybody?

Evil Spirit:  Hello, I’m here.

Artemis: No, no, you’re not invited evil spirit.

Narrator:  So there you have it. The circular cakes with candles we use today at nearly every birthday party were designed by ancient Greeks who were trying to copy the moon but what about the practice of blowing out the candles?

Evil Spirit:  Let me guess. You are blowing evil spirits away.

Narrator:  Good guess, but not quite many ancient cultures believed the smoke from a candle could carry wishes and prayers up to the gods. And just like today, they believed if you make a wish when blowing out your birthday candles that wish might come true,

Speaker: As long as you don’t tell anybody what you wish for,

Narrator:  Right? At least that’s what the superstition says. But Smarty Pants, here’s an actual nugget of science for you. Can you tell me why candles go out when you blow on them? Is it

A, the carbon dioxide you’re exhaling that snuffs out the flame?

B, it’s because your blow is so forceful, it pushes the flame from its fuel source. Or

C, is your breath so bad that it can destroy fire? Okay. Most of you brush your teeth, so it’s not C. The answer is actually B. Your breath moves the flame away from the candle, giving it nothing to burn. Candles weren’t the only birthday tradition introduced by the ancient Greeks. They, along with the Romans of ancient Europe, also began giving presents and having parties. The ancient Romans are credited with having the first birthday celebrations for people who were not rulers or mythological gods. Still, for hundreds of years after that, only the rich and famous had birthday celebrations with cakes and candles.

Speaker 4:  Happy birthday, rich, famous celebrity, happy birthday to you.

Narrator:  But about 200 years ago, cakes became part of birthday celebrations for nearly all people. When the price of cake ingredients fell thanks to manufacturing changes during the industrial revolution, as cake and candles became affordable, a German celebration called Kinder Fest started becoming popular around the world. This celebration is set to be the closest to the modern birthday celebration, with one exception that you might find pretty hard to believe. German parents would light the candles and give their kids a cake in the morning. But they weren’t allowed to blow out the candles and eat the cake until late in the evening. What? The old Kinder Fest was a bit like torture for impatient kids who wanted to blow out their candles and dig into their delicious cake.

Evil Spirit:  Sounds fun. I like torture.

Narrator:  No, no, no. evil spirits at birthdays. Instead, there are colorful balloons, which were first introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair during the mid-1930s and became popular at parties after that. And of course, there’s the birthday song. Should we sing something?

Speaker 4:   Sure. It’s a party. Cool. What should we sing? I don’t know. Ah, let the dogs out.

Narrator:  No, no, no, no. Dogs were let out at birthday parties. So where did the traditional birthday song come from and what month is the most popular month for birthdays? The answer is right after this quick break. Hey, Smarty Pants, want to know one of my favorite sounds? Here it is.

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Narrator:  Like we’ve been saying, Smarty Pants, no matter how you celebrate it, your birthday is a special day devoted just to you.

Evil Spirit:  Well, a birthday is not for just one person. I mean, there are nearly 8 billion people on the planet and only 365 days. In a typical year, you can’t have one day set for just one person. The math doesn’t work out.

Narrator:  You are a real party pooper. You know that

Evil Spirit:  I’ve been called worse

Narrator:  The evil spirit, which is totally not real. Does bring up a good point, Smarty Pants, about how many people do you think share a birthday with you? Is it 1 million? Is it 5 million? According to some estimates, more than 17.5 million people share your birthday. That’s a lot of cakes and some months have more birthdays than others. So Smarty Pants, what month do you think is the most popular for birthdays? Is it August, June, or September? Here’s my pal Chet Nickerson with the answer.

Speaker 4:  This is Chet Nickerson reporting. According to studies, the most popular birthday month in the world is September, while December seems to be the least common birthday month back to you narrator.

Narrator:  And when you celebrate your birthday, whether be it September or any other time of the year, chances are you’ll hear a song that sounds a lot like this one

Artemis:  Good morning to you. Good morning to you. Good morning dear Children. Good morning to all.

Narrator:  While the tune is familiar, those lyrics might not be. Those were the original lyrics to the traditional birthday song, which was written by a Kentucky school teacher and her sister back in 1893. They wanted to make a simple song that even the youngest of children could learn, and it worked. The tune became a big hit in classrooms throughout Kentucky, but eventually the lyrics changed from Good Morning to Happy Birthday, making it one of the most popular songs in the world. Fun fact, the happy birthday song was copyrighted, meaning you had to pay to use it in media, movies, TV shows, even this podcast, or rather; it was copyrighted until May of 2021. Now it’s in the public domain, which means anyone can use it free of charge.

Evil Spirit:  even me,

Narrator:  No evil spirits are not welcome at birthdays.

Evil Spirit:  Can I just have a tiny piece of cake?

Narrator:  Sure. But it’s an angel’s food cake.

Narrator:  A big overseas shout out to Austin and Norwich, United Kingdom. You said who smarter. It is perfect for helping to grow your brain with facts at bedtime, to which we say, who smarter? It can grow your brain anytime, but bedtime works too. Thanks for smarting with us, Austin.

This episode Birthday Rituals was written by Dave Barry and voiced by Taya Garlett, Nico Kats, Adam Tex Davis, Jason Williams, Charlotte Cone, Max Kamaski, and this guy Jerry Kohler.

Technical Direction and sound design by Josh Hanh.

Who Smarted? is recorded and mixed at the Relicroom Studios.

Our associate producer is Maxkimasaki.

The theme song is by Brian Suarez, with lyrics written and performed by Adam Tex Davis.

Who Smarted? was created and produced by Adam Tex Davis and Jerry Colbert. This has been an atomic entertainment production.