Jun 20, 2020

Birthday cake

For the past few months, whenever I attend a birthday party or see pictures of a birthday party, I ask myself, "Why do we need a birthday cake?" The immediate answer that comes to my mind is "Duh, that's how people celebrate birthdays all over the world".

I haven't researched the history behind birthday cakes but as I look back, my brother and I never had a birthday cake during our childhood. Our parents used to buy us a new birthday dress every year. We would wear it to school and distribute chocolates to our classmates. We would take blessings from grandparents and they would give us a small token of money as a gift. Our grandmother would make payasam (kheer) on our star birthday date (which would mostly be a different date than the English calendar date). That's the ritual for kids' birthdays up to the age of 10-11 years. Our parents never celebrated their birthdays. I don't think it is due to financial constraints but more about the mindset. When we ask why they don't celebrate their birthdays, Appa would just say, "ezhu kazhudai vayasaachu, inime enna birthday celebration!" (We are old enough that we don't need any celebration for our birthday).

These days, every family who can afford a birthday cake buys one for each family member, irrespective of age. Children enjoy the cake whereas adults eat with a lot of guilt and apprehension - "Let me just take a small slice", we tell the host. Most bakeries and home bakers take birthday cake order of 1/2 kg minimum, which is quite a large quantity for a small family of 3-4. We might end up either overeating, distribute to a few others or end up throwing the remaining cake. The bigger the cake, the larger the wastage. For most birthday parties, people end up ordering large size of cake with sugar-loaded fondant or rich icing, decorated with artificial colors. Again, a big portion ends up in the trash can. That scene from the first story of "sillu karupatti" is heart-wrenching, where the kids scour through trash in a landfill to find fondant of an Elsa doll on a birthday cake. 

A few days back, my husband K decided to bake a chocolate cake. While he was getting the ingredients ready, he screamed out loud, "How much sugar and butter go into this! I didn't realize it this long". The same realization happened with me when I started baking in 2014. The amount of sugar, refined oil and maida that goes into baking a cake is just unbelievable. I try and substitute with slightly healthier options - 50:50 wholewheat flour and maida, jaggery or cane sugar in place of white sugar on the rare occasions I bake at home. But most of the commercial bakeries don't choose healthier ingredients. With home bakers, unless we specifically ask them to make a healthier version, they would also use the same maida, sugar and oil combination.

One might argue, "It is just a once-a-year event. Why fuss over so much?". Let me break the harsh truth - Even if we have reached ezhu kazhudai vayasu (adulthood), birthday cakes are being bought for us. So for a family of 4, there are 4 birthday cakes in a year. Add a wedding anniversary cake and a couple of other celebrations like New Year, Valentine's day etc. Not to forget the umpteen birthday parties in the apartment community, office birthday parties, school friends' parties etc. No wonder, birthday cake bakers are raking in the moolah while we keep wondering how our HbA1C levels are climbing. 

For the past two years, I asked my husband not to buy me a cake on my birthday. I'd rather enjoy a small bowl of paruppu payasam with jaggery on my special day than eat junk. 

Why treat our bodies with junk on our special day? Is this how we want to celebrate?

That brings me to the next question.

"Why do we even celebrate our birthdays?" 

Celebrations are a good opportunity to spend time with loved ones, feel special and be treated extra special. It is a perfect day to create good memories.

But can't we celebrate our lives on a daily basis? Why wait for that ONE special day? Why can't we feel special every single day?

It is okay if you disagree with this post. I'm just sharing my thoughts here. Let's not argue over it.

The one thing that has struck me from Durgesh Nandhini's minimalism workshop is "Question everything". I question the need for a birthday cake through this post. Recently, she posted a picture of her daughter's birthday cake made with fruits. How beautiful is that cake! Layers of watermelon surrounded by grapes and banana slices. Just amazing! Maathi yosikkalaame !! (Let's think differently)

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