Origins: The wedding cake has been part of the bridal feast since Roman times, and it symbolizes fertility and good fortune. By tradition, this foodstuff should be crafted of the best ingredients and made from as rich a mix as possible, to indicate abundance and thus through sympathetic magic attract more of the same to the happy couple. A well-made cake is a sign of a well-formed marriage; a cake that splits or turns out otherwise deformed bodes ill for the wedded pair.
No matter how great a cook the bride is, she must not make her own cake lest she doom herself to working hard all her life. Neither must she sample a bit of it prior to serving it on her wedding day.
The first slice must be cut by the bride lest the couple be childless. Nowadays it has become tradition for the husband to assist in the operation by laying his hand over hers while she is cutting. This "cutting by committee" approach is said to signify that the couple announces it will share all possessions.
A modern custom has sprung up that the bride must feed the first bit of cake to her husband. This act is viewed as her symbolically offering herself up to him, inviting him to partake of all she has to offer. She somewhat negates its chattel message with the act of impish rebellion of playfully shoving the cake bit at him in such a way as to get a daub of frosting on his nose. He is expected to handle this incident with manly grace and good humor. Some grooms "retaliate" by giving the bride a taste of her own medicine, but care should be taken to only lightly touch her with the frosting lest hours of bridal makeup be undone in a moment of overly-exuberant
All present at the wedding must have some of the cake. To refuse is very unlucky, both for the bridal pair and the person doing the refusing.
An unmarried girl who puts a bit of the cake under her pillow will dream of her future husband. Some add a further enhancement to this belief by insisting that the cake fragment first be passed three or nine times through a wedding ring before being slept on. The bride should also keep a portion to ensure her husband's faithfulness. At one time, such portions — even whole tiers — were kept until the baptism of the first child and then consumed at the christening feast.
In Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, at one time a plate of bride-cake was flung over the new wife's head as she returned from church, and omens were read from the way the plate broke. The more the pieces it shattered into, the happier the marriage was foretold to be. Conversely, a plate that didn't break was a bad sign, but quick-witted members of the bridal party would stamp upon it to avert the ill omen. The flung cake itself was scrambled for by the guests and torn into luck-bringing portions.
The modern custom of sending bits of wedding cake to friends not present at the wedding has as its roots a desire that they too should share in the confection's luck-bringing properties.
Barbara "cakewalk" Mikkelson
Last updated: 27 June 2005
Hole, Christina. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996. ISBN 0-76070-228-4. Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-19-282-916-5. Pickering, David. Dictionary of Superstitions. London: Cassell, 1995. ISBN 0-304-345350. Tuleja, Tad. Curious Customs. New York: Harmony Books, 1987. ISBN 0-517-56654-0.