Tag Archives: cake

The secret to a good wish

Text: “A kind of funny tradition my family has is that whenever we celebrate a birthday we have to make one wish for each year of life. We also have a little book where we each write down our wishes from each previous birthday. Basically each time you celebrate a birthday you add a wish to your list before you blow out the candles on the cake and it is a way of keeping track of what you wanted and makes you appreciate what you already do have a little more. A good example is my wish for my 18th birthday was to get into USC and now I go there, so knowing and seeing my wish actually come true is a result of this tradition. In a weird way I feel like doing this makes wishes come true more often.

Context: CH is a friend of mine from San Francisco. He said this tradition came from his Dad’s side of the family and that his dad had been doing it since he was a kid. Unfortunately, both of CH’s Dad’s parents had passed away so it was impossible to get further detail about the genesis of the tradition. CH believed that this tradition helped hi appreciate all he had more because usually he ended up growing out of whatever he wished for previously, but also that seeing some wishes actually come true throughout his life made him more grateful for the things he did have. It was fun talking to CH about the stories associate with this tradition.

Analysis: The act of blowing out candles on a birthday cake is a fun and lighthearted tradition that has become an integral part of most birthday celebrations. While the origins of the tradition may have been rooted in ancient beliefs and rituals, today it is a way for people to come together to celebrate another year of life and make a wish for the future. This is a fun spin of the super popular act of blowing out birthday candles and I think it is all the better because of it’s positive effects on the outlook of CH and his family. Furthermore, it has a deeper meaning because they are keeping the folklore of CH’s Dad in the process of continuing to do it. Once people become of an older more mature age it would be very entertaining to see how one’s desires had evolved. Furthermore, I think this tradition does have the effect of leading people to believe their wishes are more likely to come true because they get to actually see and remember what they wished for while most other people would have likely forgotten.

Mardi Gras Cake


E is a junior at Bates University where she skies for their cross country team. She grew up with me in Sun Valley, Idaho.


Me: “How does your family celebrate Mardi Gras?”

E: “Well there is this figurine, a little, small plastic, baby. 

They bake it into a cake

And when the figurine—or—when you’re cutting the cake, 

whoever gets the baby is supposed to pay for the cake next year.”

Me: “Did you ever get the baby and pay for the cake?” 

E: “No. They would just always tell me that I had to buy the cake next year—I was about 10 years old when I got the baby, 

but it was a very exciting moment to get the baby and I would keep it forever and ever.”

Me: “What does the tradition mean?”

E: “It’s from a biblical story. 

The three kings who brings gifts to Baby Jesus 

The baby represents Jesus

the cake was always the colors of Mardi Gras—

Purple, Yellow and green.”


Receiving the baby (who represents Jesus) in your slice of cake, symbolizes luck and prosperity. In E’s family, the person who gets the baby has to pay for next year’s cake, however, traditionally receiving the baby means that the finder become the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of the evening.

To read more about these cakes, and a different variation on the story you can click this link:


Coin in the Cake

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. Her parents were immigrants from Greece and she grew up in a predominantly Greek neighborhood. Her religion was Greek Orthodox which is where she picked up many different traditions.

Context: Upon calling for Easter, the informant was in the middle of dying eggs, but she gave multiple examples of what is good luck for Greek.


MC: A tradition I used to do in the Greek Orthodox Church when I was younger was that a yeast cake would be made. Sometimes people would put eggs around the cake, to symbolize Easter, but that wasn’t always the case. However, there was a very important step when baking the cake. In the dough was placed a single coin. Then after the midnight mass, we would be cutting up the cake, and whoever gets the gold coin would be given good luck for the rest of the year. We had many traditions giving luck.


Informant: She is very proud of her culture and traditions, and is especially happy that the Greeks have many traditions for good luck.

Mine: The ending statement stands out and brings up the question as to why there would be so many traditions surrounding good luck, especially for the Greeks. It could be that since civilization has been around for so long, they have undoubtedly faced many hardships, and by focusing on good luck rituals, it allows for a more optimistic view on the world, rather than focusing on the past. Additionally, the two most notable good luck Greek traditions surround Easter, the red egg and the coin in the egg. The hope coming along with Jesus’s resurrection may help contribute to an overall feeling of good luck.

To see another variation, Stanonis, A. J. & Wallace, R. (2018). Tasting New Orleans: How the Mardi Gras King Cake Came to Represent the Crescent City. 6–23.

Layer Cakes

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (AB).

HS: So you have a certain tradition regarding birthday cakes in Denmark, is that right?

AB: Yes that’s correct. We have something called layer cakes. The layers are split with jam and sometimes a sort of pudding in the middle as well. It is reserved mostly for birthdays.


My informant is one of my friends from high school. He immigrated to the United States from Denmark when he was 15 and still carries on many aspects of his Danish culture. He is fluent in Danish and English.


I was at my informant’s house with him, his sister, and his parents. They were happy to elaborate on some of their Danish traditions.


My first thought that came to mind regarding the tradition of layered cakes in Danish culture was whether or not they put birthday candles on them. My curiosity regarding the dichotomy between Danish and American culture came into the limelight, and I found that they do. This led me to another question, though. Why do western cultures celebrate their birthdays with cake? Looking at this Danish tradition through the lens of this question made me realize that the celebration of birthdays with cake is the larger societal trend and that the Danish and American means of celebration are just derivatives of a larger cultural tradition.



Informant: Well at Christmas we’ll always have Buche de Noel… Which is a French dessert. It’s like, “Christmas log…” And it’s like a cake, and it’s like a roll, you know? Where you roll it up? And you decorate it to like resemble a log, and a lot of times it’ll have like marzipan… Like little marzipan mushrooooms, or little like eeeeelves, or something, and there’ll be like powdered sugar to be like snoooooow. And they’re just like super pretty. And we always do that. 


Informant: We’re not French, but we always do it. My mom did a year abroad in France, so she’s big on France. We go there a lot. All I know is it’s just like a traditional French dessert to have at Christmas. 

Interviewer: Do you make it or buy it?

Informant: We always buy it. We always do catering for Christmas. Cooking or baking is too much pressure. We wanna be like enjoying ourselves. Like for me, I really love baking, but if there’s a lot of people around, I like hate baking. I’ll be like, “Get out of my space. Like stop it. Like leave.”


Buche de Noel began as a tradition because it represented the burning of the Yule log, which is rooted in Pagan rituals. The tradition then evolved from the burning of a log to making and consuming a cake, which has then become cross-culturally adopted, with a German-American family making this French dessert part of their family tradition. This demonstrates how traditions can change over time and become adopted by new people and groups. The informant is attracted to this Christmas cake even without fully understanding its ritual context and history. Instead, she appreciates it for its aesthetic appearance and sweet taste. This is perhaps why, as Elliott Oring writes in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction, “food traditions are likely to be tenacious and survive when other aspects of culture are transformed or disappear” (35). One does not always have to know a food’s ritual context to appreciate its taste or appearance. Thus, food can be adopted by “outsiders.” Buche de Noel is now a part of the informant’s family tradition, and has taken on its own meaning within the Christmas traditions and rituals of her family––a meaning that is separate from the context and meaning it might have to a French family.


Source cited above: Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986.