Monday, March 10, 2014

Let them eat cake!

We ate cake (again) today at work.

One of our custodians is retiring and the social committee honored him with a little cake and an acknowledgement from the faculty.

I became fixated on the cake because birthdays, retirement, a baby, all seem to stir up another cake at work. There is always a cake someplace in our building.

A Seinfeld episode once lampooned the 20th century indulgence of cake within the workplace. Two separate men named Walter celebrated a birthday and a retirement on the same day. Before two pieces of cake are piled onto Elaine's paper plate, she bristles, "you know there are 200 people who work in this office. Every day is somebody's special day." In the background, half of colleagues sing "For he's a jolly good fellow" for the retiring Walter at the same time that the other half sing "Happy Birthday to the other Walter."

As it turns out, cake isn't just a product of the glut of modern American.

Cake is old. And so is the ritual of using cake for celebrations.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about cake being served at special occasions, and evidence exists that the Egyptians created cake-like treats covered in honey, fruit, and nuts. It seems that we can thank the English for the placement of trinkets and candles and wish-making, and the Romans for unearthing cheese cake.

Some cakes were shaped round on purpose--to honor the moon or the sun. In other cultures, ingredients were so rare that combining them into a cake made celebrating the momentous event even more special.

And, with that, cakes carried a symbolism with them through the ages and that symbolism still stands today. When we share in a piece of cake at work, we're continuing the traditions of symbolically showing someone that they are special and that they mean something to us.

So, the next time...tomorrow?...a cake is paraded out into a faculty meeting, grab a piece! You wouldn't want to upend thousands of years ancient traditions?


  1. I always laugh about how it seems impossible to go on a diet when you're a teacher. There's always a colleague or students who brings in a treat, and you can't hurt their feelings by not taking it! ;-) We need a cake button for the Slice of Life. :-)

  2. I love this! I've been trying to be really healthy this year by eating fruits and vegetables and even working out regularly. However, I must be honest, when it's time for cake I definitely have a weakness, especially if it's any kind of chocolate. I'm still eating cake but I'm trying to make the pieces smaller, at least most of the time. Thanks for sharing the history of cake. It lessens my guilt. Long live tradition!

  3. We seldom have cake at our school which is okay with me. I don't like it, never ice cream is a different story:) Just made some tonight for my husband's return home! Let the celebrating begin.

  4. I'm with Wanda on the ice cream, but found myself wanting to let loose with a "let them eat cake!" refrain at the end. Nice slice of history.

  5. Great post! We don't have as much cake, but other forms of sweets tend to make the rounds quite often!

  6. Oh, we have so much cake around my office! And cookies, and doughnuts, and muffins and chocolates ... Way too much sweet stuff! We have enough lactose and gluten intolerant people on staff, however, that no one raises an eyebrow now when someone refuses a piece of whatever goodie is on offer.