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The Tradition

Traditions are funky activities. They come to life through a lifetime of repetition.

There is nothing more basic, more ordinary, and more traditional than the American birthday cake. Once a year, from New York to California, a celebration begins with two nine inch round layers covered with smooth, thick icing, hunkered down in the middle of a large platter. On top are dime-store candles of all colors, perched just high enough that when lit, they won’t singe the cake. Fancy cakes are welcomed, but this tradition generally salutes the plain, basic, made-from-a-store-bought-box cake whose total cost can be covered by the coins in a shopper’s pocket.

The birthday cake tradition is always accompanied by a quick and simple rendition of the birthday song. The candles are lit, the cake is paraded to the table, the song is sung, the candles are blown out, the crowd gathered claps, and the birthday feast begins. The first slice of cake is generously presented to the individual who has reached the birthday milestone as a sign of honor and respect. That’s the tradition.

But why? How did this all come about? Why cake? Why cakes with candles? Why cakes with candles accompanied by a ditty of a song? Why cakes, candles, ditties, and the blowing and the clapping? There is just no rhyme or reason for any of it. It is a tradition, it meets the needs, it is the way that it always has been done, and the way it most likely is always going to be.

Traditions are funky activities. They come to life through a lifetime of repetition. Sometimes they are perpetuated out of habit. There is a level of comfort that comes from knowing what the expectation is and doing it without too much thought or effort. There is also some type of joy in doing something in a way that has been deemed to be socially accepted.

Without a doubt, choosing to celebrate a birthday with a cake, candles, ditty, blowing, clapping, and eating keeps the light of Americana shining bright. In fact, there are hundreds upon thousands of similar type traditions within the United States that do the very same thing: uttering “God bless you” upon hearing a sneeze (with no real religious connotation attached), celebrating Easter with chocolate bunnies, placing a tooth under a child’s pillow to attract a visit from the tooth fairy, flipping a coin to determine starting advantage at a sporting event.

Bottom line, it is a tradition to have traditions. Enough said.

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