Almost all weddings, traditional or modern, culminate in a grand wedding cake cutting and sharing event (even in cases where there is not a traditional cake). In many cases, the newly married couple welcomes their guests to share in their joy and the “sweetness” of the event by first cutting and feeding each other a bit of the wedding cake and then sharing with their guests. But today’s traditions came about from much more humble and superstitious beginnings, and the symbolism of the cake cutting itself endures, despite the tradition itself evolving with the times.
In Roman times, loaves of bread were used rather than cake – and these were broken over the head of the bride both to herald the end of the bride’s single, maiden life, to symbolize her fertility and the beginning of her marital life. The wedding guests and witnesses would then scramble for the bread crumbs, which were reputed to have good luck for all those who got a piece.
Eventually, as the tradition shifted to incorporate sweet cakes of different varieties, the bread-breaking ritual also shifted to become more about the cake cutting. Looking at today’s traditions, it would be a bit impractical to break an entire modern wedding cake over a bride’s head!
Nowadays, the wedding cake cutting ritual tends to signify that the wedding formalities are at an end – although this can vary depending on the timing of the wedding itself. Even in modern times, the symbolism behind the cutting focused on the bride and the loss of virginity – so the bride was often the first and only person cutting the cake initially. This has changed to include both parties in the wedding, cutting the cake as their first joint action together post-wedding. One partner’s hand grasps the knife while the other partner holds onto that hand. The overlapping hands in joint activity symbolize the joining of the two lives going forward as well as the support the couple will offer each other.
Many modern weddings incorporate the “first bite” tradition of the couple feeding each other a piece of cake, which has also evolved to include a more lighthearted tradition of shoving cake into each other’s faces rather than into their mouths.
The whole process of wedding cake cutting has become more complicated over time as cakes themselves have become more elaborate and ornate. Cakes are, quite often, giant, multi-tiered affairs that require planning for cutting the cake properly – with larger weddings and more guests to serve a piece of cake to and considerably more complex cake designs to consider, couples often need assistance from catering personnel at their weddings. Generally speaking, the bride and groom only start the cutting part of their event – wedding staff or friends will probably take over the rest of the cutting.
Different traditions govern how and when the cake is served – for example, at what point during the reception should the cake service occur. This will also depend upon whether the wedding is a morning or evening event. More frequently these days, the marital couple is deciding to do things their own way, but generally speaking, the cake cutting often happens near the end of the reception and tends to signal that the reception is winding down. That is, the cake cutting tradition signifies that the reception may go on for about another hour.
However and whenever the cake cutting ends up being during a wedding reception, good wedding planners and catering staff can help to ensure that the cake is cut and served without a hitch.