As one of the longest-running wedding traditions, the wedding cake has its own set of symbolic sub-traditions. From the cutting of the cake to the first bites a couple takes to the way it’s served, the cake was meant to serve a larger purpose—as a means to bring the newlyweds luck, fertility and officially cement their union.
Wedding cakes were created primarily for auspicious reasons. In ancient Rome, for example, wedding guests would break a cake over the bride’s head (or in medieval times, throw it at her) for good luck and fertility. Guests would then gather up any crumbs they could find and take these tokens of luck home with them. There’s also a myth that bridesmaids would take their cake home and sleep with it under their pillow in hopes it would bring them a husband.
Another superstition from medieval times influenced the tiered cakes that have become customary at weddings today. Guests would stack as many cakes, scones, buns and any other baked goods they could manage. If a couple could kiss over the tower of pastries without it falling down, it was believed that they would have a life of prosperity. Cakes eventually began to include fruit as a symbol of fertility, and having the bride cut the cake and serve it to guests likewise ensured her fertility.
However, with the advent of multi-tiered cakes plastered in rigid frosting, it became clear the bride needed some support to cut hundreds of pieces if every guest was to be served before midnight. Once grooms began stepping in to assist their brides, the cutting of the cake itself became symbolic as the first task completed together as a married couple, commencing their lifelong partnership.
Feeding each other a piece of cake also became a storied moment—a symbol of commitment to provide for one another as well as a celebration of the couple’s new shared life. In many cases, this symbol of reciprocity has been replaced by smashing frosting in each other’s faces, which—as The Knot points out—might not be the best choice, despite the heckling a couple may receive from their guests. For one, it robs the couple of this beautiful gesture and romantic symbolism. Plus, the fact that it wastes the money and effort that went into the bride’s makeup that day is another consideration.
The cake cutting also became a sign that it was socially acceptable to leave the wedding. According to Brides.com, the cake used to be cut at the end of the reception as a conclusion to the day’s festivities. These days, the cake is typically cut between dinner and dancing, but—especially for elderly guests—still signals the official end to the wedding.
Even as wedding cakes become replaced with other desserts, such as sundae bars or cupcake towers, the cutting and feeding traditions don’t seem to be going anywhere. Rather, many couples still opt for a “cutting cake” solely to keep these traditions alive.
The end of the wedding night isn’t the end of the wedding cake or its traditions. One last one remains, as a portion of the cake (usually the remaining cutting cake or the top of a tiered cake) is frozen. Though past tradition dictated the cake be saved for their child’s first christening, newlyweds now typically save it for their first wedding anniversary. And though it’s not specified as a tradition per se, should a couple prefer to feed it to each other for old times’ sake—by all means, go for it.
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