One of the biggest and most prominently featured aspects of a wedding, as well as being potentially one of the most expensive ones, is the cake. This is usually a centerpiece, a show-stopping piece of art (delicious art at that) which the post-ceremony celebrations can be focused around. Everyone wants to see the cake. There are those who admire the style and craftsmanship and those who are just chomping at the bit to get their slice.
The traditional wedding cake has long, humble beginnings and it is not just a chance to indulge in a bit of post-ceremonial sweetness. It actually holds a traditional, symbolic meaning for the married couple. The tradition of having a wedding cake in Roman times for example, was highly important as it was considered to be a symbol of good luck for the years of marriage ahead and this is something which has stuck.
But why would a cake offer luck or in some cases, fertility? It is in the sharing of the cake, because when the couple exchanges cake, that is said to promote loyalty and devotion to each other, therefore promoting the longevity of the marriage. Marriage is about sharing, of being as one, and what sweeter way to do it than with a slice of cake? Some of the motifs used on the cake, such as horseshoes can enhance the symbolic fortune offered by the wedding cake too.
So the cake is about sharing and joining together, but the sharing aspect goes beyond the couple only because after the newlyweds have partaken in the treat, then all attendees at the wedding reception are offered a slice (and those not attending can be shipped a piece). But it hasn’t always been a full on sharing event following the cutting of the cake.
There is actually an age-old tradition which would see the bride step up and
serve portions to the family of the groom only. What this symbolized was that the bride was ready to give her household labors over to the family of her new husband and away from that of her own.
The first cutting of the wedding cake is traditionally done together between the bride and groom, as well as the first taste. Earlier in the Middle Ages, the tradition of the bride and groom kissing above a cake started to gain popularity and if you think of a modern day marriage, where the cake is shared and then a kiss, this all comes together and you can see the longevity of traditions. Of course you have instances of the sharing going even further when the couple shove cake into the face of their betrothed instead of eating it.
Modern wedding cakes are usually large affairs with more than enough to go around, and it is not unusual to see a cake boasting several layers. Fortunately modern technology has allowed for another tradition of saving a piece of the wedding cake to be enjoyed on the first wedding anniversary. Cake can be frozen and then enjoyed at a later date and generally that is why fruit cake gets used on the smallest top layer, because it preserves so well.
Back in Roman times though, the cake tradition was actually a little less fun for the bride because cake would be broken above the head of the bride when the ceremony was to be closed. There is actually a book called “Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain” by Russell Ash which actually details the ancient Roman practice of dropping a wedding cake on the head of the bride. That wasn’t so much a cake though as a small bun.
A newer tradition surrounding the wedding cake has been the introduction of a Groom’s cake. This is where the groom gets his own cake for the wedding, which is usually based on their own personal taste of flavor and decor. It symbolizes the same thing as the main Wedding Cake, being there to use good fortune as well as the man embracing the sweetness of married life which will lie ahead.