Some years ago, on Wednesday 30 November 1983 to be precise, I was aged 8. As usual a few moments before 8am I left the house with my Father to be driven to school. Nothing particularly unusual about that. The morning routine required that we were in the car to hear the 8am pips on Radio 4. Curiously, nearly 40 years later, I now do much the same when taking my daughter to school. Even when she was 5 I had her trained to read the analogue clock in the car to know whether we were on time.
Anyway back to 1983. On this particular morning, it was Father’s birthday. And so, in accordance with tradition, we stopped off at the bakers on Cranleigh High Street to collect a large tray of freshly baked cakes. This, of course, was so that Father could take the cakes into work to share around with his colleagues.
It is somewhat uncertain how this tradition originated and doing some online research suggests that a lot of today’s workers are unaware of such a tradition.
The birthday tradition dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who believed that when pharaohs were crowned, they became gods. So their coronation day was their ‘birth’ day.
It was the Ancient Greeks who adopted this tradition and added cake. Why cake? Well, the Greeks needed something to offer up to Artemis, goddess of the moon, as a tribute on their birthdays. The Greeks set to baking moon-shaped cakes and decorating them with lit candles so they shone like the moon.
The first actual birthday cake was for children’s birthdays in Germany in the Middle Ages. This was called Kinderfest. Each year, the child would receive a cake and one candle for every year of their life, and one extra to symbolize the upcoming year. But there weren’t any gifts – just good wishes.
I have to admit that, at the age of 8, I did always wonder why it was that the person celebrating their birthday was the one who had to bring in cakes. Surely everyone should be buying you a cake? However, with the benefit of hindsight (and 40 years to ponder this question) I accept it is actually more logical otherwise everyone would be buying a few cakes every day, depending on the size of your team.
In Sweden, it’s obligatory to eat coffee and cake whilst in work. No, really. At many companies, it’s mandatory for all workers, from Malmo to Stockholm, to have a designated time during the day to sit down and do fika.
Fika — which roughly translates from Swedish as drinking coffee, munching sweet treats and chatting — is as much a part of the working day in Sweden as emailing and fixing the printer. Many Swedish firms have mandatory fika breaks and employees are given free hot drinks.
So imagine my surprise, or probably just rolled eyes given the world we live in now, to read an article in today’s news entitled “Keep Cake away from office, suggests food watchdog head“.
For anyone interested you can read the full article on the BBC Website.
The line which caught my attention was this:
Prof Jebb, also a professor of diet and population at the University of Oxford, argued eating cake is a choice but colleagues can help each other by providing “a supportive environment”.
It seems to be saying that we have a choice, but it is irresponsible to give people a choice in case some people make the wrong choice. The implication is because cakes are there, people will then eat them. As a result the entire workforce will become obese and productivity will probably cease overnight causing all sorts of ongoing problems for society as a whole.
I realise this statement does seem on face of it to be nonsense, and you may well think I am just making it up for some humour. But no, this is actually what people think when it comes to bringing cakes into the office. Surely all we have to do is accept that everyone is being given a choice? When did we become such a nanny state that grown adults cannot even be trusted to make the right choice about cake?
I’m not advocating the promotion of obesity or even suggesting that anyone should feel obliged to bring in cakes just because it is their birthday. I just wonder why, particularly in the UK, we have become a nation obsessed with complaining, moaning, criticising and essentially always seeing the worst outcome of any situation?
Maybe I should move to Sweden where they encourage you to take time out for cake?