I've never baked and frosted a birthday cake for Jesus, or known anyone to do so, either. That is, until this year. Sure, it makes sense to bake a birthday cake for Jesus, if you're a practicing Christian, or just want any excuse to make a cake, since Christmas celebrates Christ's birth, even though, he was likely not born on December 25th.
Aleda, my sister-in-law, made one this year. Her first. But she's determined to start a precedent and bake one every year. Hers was chocolate with white frosting and one candle on top. We all sang Happy Birthday to Jesus, then Mick and Rem did the honors of blowing out the candle.
Then we ate. Yum. Nothing better than chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. She also had a pecan pie and something else... Can't quite recall all the dessert offerings on Christmas Day, though I sampled each.
But where did the tradition of Jesus;s birthday cake begin? And what kind of symbolism resides in this cake's layers and decoration and very shape? Is it native to certain regions of the country, or world, or celebrated by specific denominations? It's a favorite tradition in Columbia, SC, but elsewhere, too?
Aleda got the idea from her cousin on her Dad's side. They're from the midwest. I think she was born in Nebraska or Kansas. Her cousin is really religious and started her family's tradition when her children were two or three years old, a few years ago. Before you start thinking this is some kind of southern evangelical Baptist practice, let me ease your mind that my sister-in-law is Catholic and as I mentioned earlier, not a native of this region. But, Amy Sullivan writes in the Washington Monthly (5.9 (Sept 2003): p52(3).) about growing up in a Midwestern Baptist church where they "baked a birthday cake and sand a rollicking tune called 'Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus.'" Just suppose it's a Midwestern thang.
I asked my step-mother whether her fourth-generation (at least!) highly-devout (Baptist) Southwest Virginia family celebrated Christmas with a Jesus birthday cake. They've bought a sheet cake at the bakery and had "Happy Birthday Jesus" written on it. She promised to ask around her family and church whether anyone has a specific recipe for it.
And what about you? What's your experience with Jesus' Birthday cake? Have you baked one? Eaten one? Or know someone else who does?
Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas (2003) is a Google book that popped up as a result of my search for Jesus' birthday cake. Ace Collins writes that there are no written records indicating the exact origin of this tradition, but he suspects it began only a few hundred years ago possibly in England, but more likely in Germany because Christ's birthday was celebrated overtly in that country. The baking of the cake was significant because resource for cakes, like sugar, and butter, were scarce. Cakes were a treat. Those Jesus bc of the past were baked with special treats inside for children like marbles, small metal animals, or coins. And then the actual rising of the cake batter takes on religious significance when we think of Christ's rising from the dead on the third day. Easter, I guess, but my catechism is weak anymore. See, I'm more likely to bake a banana bundt for Buddha's birthday.
Those cakes of yore, according to Collins, were white inside, symbolizing Christ's purity, and iced with red to symbolize his shed blood. And a single candle adorning the cake signified the light Christ brought to the world. It wasn't until the 1800s that the tradition was commonplace in England and America. Collins attributes the modern resurgence of Jesus bc to churches and Christian schools who are horrified by the consumer/consumptive identity the holiday shoulders and wish to re-emphasize the religious significance of Christmas.
Some folks find the entire idea of a birthday cake for Jesus funny, or peculiar. Or foreign. Or perhaps a slap at the way someone is raising their children.
At cooks.com they direct bakers in this way:
Make a round chocolate cake (to symbolize our sins). Cover with white frosting (his purity covers our sins). Top with a yellow star and angel (bearer of the first glad tidings). Place 12 (Christ, our light through the 12 months of the year) red candles (red for his blood shed for us) on top. Encircle the cake with evergreen icing leaves (symbol of everlasting life).
Another cake at the same site uses angel food cake, strawberries, and whipped cream. The number of red candles placed on the cake should mirror the number of people attending the birthday party.
Old Fashioned Holidays makes a three layer cake. The first is brown for our sins, the second is red for the blood Jesus shed for our sins, and the third layer is green to signify life. Then it's covered with white icing which symbolizes Jesus' purity and righteousness. They decorate the cake sides with hearts which represents Christian witness for Jesus. A gold star marks the middle of the cake. This is the star of Bethlehem. A yellow border around the star signifies God's love. And a big red candle in the middle of the yellow star represents Jesus himself. Others like a bit of scripture to accompany each layer.
Leslie Ratliff's explanation is essentially the same as the others, but she specifies a round cake because it shows that God's love is never ending. She adds an angel to her cake so that we remember the angel's role in spreading good tidings of His birth. She explains the twelve candles each represent a month so that Jesus' light may shine each month and not just once in December. She places evergreens around the cake, possibly at the base, to remind us of Jesus' everlasting love for us.
Instructions at Beliefnet recommend reading the Christmas story from the Bible before lighting and blowing out the candle.
Many families include the celebration of Jesus' birthday with their Christmas Day traditions as a way to reduce the secular and consumer emphasis placed on the holiday by our popular culture, media, advertisers, and retailers. It's especially popular among families with small children so that the "reason for the season" is reinforced in their young minds. But some Christians think it's a a way to have fun, be silly, and celebrate a happy occasion.
Not all of them go to great lengths to ensure that their cake is imbued with proper symbolism. Some make a lemon bundt cake and others pick up a cake from their grocery store and decorate it with the words "Happy Birthday Jesus."
Willie Crawford seconds those reasons for celebrating "the true meaning of Christmas." His recipe calls for three boxes of cake mix: White, Strawberry, and Chocolate. Willie makes an extra cake to take to church for his pastor to give to a needy family. He tints portions of his icing yellow, green, red, and reserves a bit of white, as well. He decorates his cakes with a bright yellow star, leaves, holly berries, and a plastic baby Jesus. He pipes hay colored icing around the figure. His instructions are precise, and I appreciate his symbolism best of all, especially the first one:
1. The colors of the inside of the cake represents all God's children, the people of all nations.
2. The star represents the Star of Bethlehem that led the Wise Men to Our Savior.
3. The holly vine represents the everlasting life we recieved when we accepted Jesus into our lives.
4. The red candle represents the blood that Jesus Christ shed for all of us.
5. The flame of the lit candle represents the light of Jesus that shines from within of all who believe in Him.
And some bake Jesus birthday cakes to defy the ban on religion in public schools. Julie West brought a Jesus bc to her son's holiday party because a school note requested that students bring in food that their family traditionally ate during the holiday season. And, in the comments on that story I learned another reason why we might use twelve candles on the cake: To symbolize the twelve points on Our Lady's crown, whomever Our Lady may be. The Virgin Mary, perhaps?
Redneck Diva writes about a Come to Jesus cake, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, but certainly a great new tradition in celebratory cake baking.