Every wedding has three essential ingredients - the bride, the groom and the cake!
Cutting the wedding cake is an occasion, a tradition and as significant as the cake itself. A millennium of history and tradition surrounds the wedding cake. Cutting the cake is steeped in wedding tradition but has (until recent years) always been associated with the bride alone.
Today, even though the icing and the wedding cake design and construction have radically changed, the cutting of the wedding cake by the newly married couple has become one of the happiest traditions of the wedding day. It is a function that all of the guests pause to witness and is one of the key photographs in the album recording the wedding day. Cutting the cake is the first symbolic task that the couple performs jointly, it indicates their mutual support and confirms their promise to always provide for each other.
The earliest example of 'cutting the cake' was the Roman tradition of breaking the cake above the bride's head. In Medieval times the bride and groom kissed over a pile of cakes, which evolved to the Bride's Pie and eventually the Bride's cake - both of which the bride would cut at the wedding reception. The tradition of the bride cutting the wedding cake has continued over centuries until Victorian times, when she needed the increased strength of her husband to assist. During the Victorian era the icing on wedding cakes was thickened and hardened to support the (at that time) new concept of having a tiered cake. The wedding cake tiers needed a stronger base to support the pillars and the genteel Victorian bride found that a great deal of strength was needed to penetrate the hard icing to be able to cut the cake - hence the groom's involvement in cutting the cake, making it a joint responsibility in more recent history.
The military has played a large part in British society until the latter part of the last century (officers involved in society weddings, two World Wars, national service, etc). Tradition has dictated that the bride and groom cut the first slice of the cake at their wedding and this was often performed with a sword or a ceremonial knife (and often still is today).
The correct way for the couple to cut the wedding cake is for the groom to place his right hand over the bride's hand for them to slide the knife into and through a section of the bottom layer of the cake. This is seen as the first task that the couple will have performed together and symbolises unity for their forthcoming married life. (After this first cut, either the caterer will assist to cut a slice of cake for the couple, or they will continue to cut a slice themselves.)
The first slice of the wedding cake is placed onto a plate and the knife is again used to cut this slice into two smaller pieces. First the groom feeds a piece to the bride, and then she reciprocates by feeding a piece to him. The significance of this is the couple's public declaration of a mutual commitment to always provide for one another.
After the traditional cutting of the first slice of wedding cake by the newly married couple, the caterer will arrange for the rest of the base of the cake to be cut into slices and distributed to the rest of the guests. Other tiers of the cake may be used for later distribution to other people who could not be present at the wedding breakfast. Traditionally, the top tier of the cake is preserved for a later special occasion, such as the christening of the first child or to celebrate the first wedding anniversary. Often, the top tier is made of fruitcake (where the couple may have chosen a different filling for the other tiers), this will assist with storage or freezing for a longer period of time.
In Roman times the wedding guests would take pieces of the broken cake for themselves as a symbol of fertility and good fortune. In Medieval times, the guests would bring individual cakes to the wedding and then share in them with the happy couple, again believing that fertility and good fortune would bestow them. Throughout the recorded history of weddings, the wedding cake has been a symbol of love and fertility for anyone receiving a piece as a gift - with the strongest myth being if you slept with a piece of the wedding cake under your pillow you would dream of your future marriage partner. This underlies the tradition that we still follow today of the giving of pieces of wedding cake.
During the 18th century, the bride would pass a tiny piece of wedding cake through the centre of her ring to bestow good fortune on it. The tiny piece of cake was placed under each recipient's pillow for them to dream of their own truelove marriage partner and to give good fortune and fertility to the match. This custom didn't last long historically, as it became frowned upon that the bride should remove her wedding ring so soon after the marriage ceremony.
As wedding cakes became multi-tiered there was often far more cake than there were guests to consume it. Wishing that their memories of the special day could be extended to other happy times in their marriage, many couples had a desire to keep the top tier of their wedding cake. In Victorian times, when people had a lower average life span and medical facilities were far less developed, a child from the young married couple would often follow within a year or so of their wedding. The top tier of the wedding cake was preserved and used as the christening cake of their first-born child.
Tiered wedding cakes became more popular in the late 19th century and saving the top tier became a justification for such an elaborate multi-tiered cake (generally this would be a three tiered cake). Each tier of the wedding cake had it's own significance (as it does today), with the first tier being used to feed the guests at the wedding breakfast, the centre tier being distributed as gift pieces of wedding cake and the top tier being preserved for future use, initially for a christening cake.
In the 21st century the wedding is less associated with almost immediate childbirth and is more reflective of a couple's love for each other and intention to spend their lives together. Children, if any, often come along many years after the marriage, making the preservation of the top tier as a christening cake very difficult. In today's society, in line with tradition, the top tier of the wedding cake is kept for use by the newly married couple on a future happy occasion. Whatever occasion they choose to use the top tier of their cake, it is seen as a reminder of one of the happiest days of both of their lives. Often this is to celebrate their first wedding anniversary with their families and close friends.
Information on cutting wedding cakes and the tradition associated with it. Supplying information on cutting a wedding cake with tradition for wedding receptions at all kinds of wedding venues, including the following locations: Scotland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire, Nottingham, Lincolnshire, Midlands, London, Hampshire, Kent, Essex, Middlesex, Sussex, Wales and Ireland.