How A Birthday Cake For Jesus Became My Family’s Sweetest Christmas Tradition

A charming way to celebrate the reason behind the season.

Gingerbread Latte Cake with Vanilla Whipped Cream Frosting
Photo: Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Kay E. Clarke; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

For those who celebrate, Christmas is hoped to be a time of joy and spending memorable moments with friends and family. Often, those memories are made while doing festive holiday activities together, such as decorating the Christmas tree or baking a new holiday treat. While Christmas cookies are the favorite December project for many, there’s another baking tradition that some families like to incorporate into their holiday plans, and it’s perhaps the most celebratory dessert there is: birthday cake. 

Except this birthday cake isn’t just for anyone, it’s made in recognition of “the reason for the season.” Making an honorary birthday cake for Jesus is a beloved, albeit lesser-known tradition that some families repeat year after year. The concept is primarily centered on celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, for which Christmas was first created as a holiday, but in the same way that we celebrate our own birthdays—with a cake. 

My family has been including this tradition at our Christmas Eve family party for years, and it’s become a beloved memory for the whole group. After dubbing our spiced layer cake “a Christmas birthday cake” one time on a whim, we’ve yet to be able to skip the tradition. The cake is there almost like a decorative centerpiece on the whole Southern food spread to mark why we’re all there in the first place, which can sometimes get lost in the sausage balls and casseroles. Instead, it’s a holiday quirk that we can smile about and keep around. A delicious one at that!

The tradition has also become popular for those who like to bake with their children or grandchildren during the holiday season, offering both an activity of making and decorating the cake together, as well as providing an opportunity to highlight and remember why Christmas is celebrated. As a result, the cake can really be any form or recipe, and whether the cake is topped with a message or candles is entirely up to each family. It’s generally more about the idea than the execution. 

While it’s definitely considered a lighthearted way to recognize the deeper meaning of the season, it can be turned into a fun family tradition that takes place during the celebratory Christmas meal. There are also no rules on what kind of cake is supposed to be baked—layer cake, pound cake, sheet cake, or even a festive roulade!—so it’s an easy way to try out a new recipe that feels fitting for the holidays, such as a towering white Christmas cake

As always, it’s important to respect the many ways that people choose to observe any holiday. For some, that involves a big, cheery, festive birthday cake for Jesus at Christmastime. 

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