A few weeks ago, we shared the backstory of six well-known wedding traditions, and some of them were pret-ty weird. Today, we’ve got some more traditional weirdness for you, this time, it revolves around that sweet, sticky stuff—cake—and is a little less scary for the girls.
The Wedding Cake & Its Related Activities
Wedding Cakes today are elaborate feats of baking and balance, costing an average of $466 in 2014. (What!? $466 for something that is just going to get cut to pieces and smashed into the newlywed’s faces, and then, possibly/probably, frozen? Yes.)
According to Mental Floss, the cake-in-the-face tradition was actually born before the tradition of a wedding cake itself, except it was done with bread. The groom would take a big ole bite of the bread, then hold the rest of whatever was left and break it over the bride’s head, letting the crumbs fall into her hair and face. Some sources say the couple would then eat a few of the crumbs together, but other sources make no mention of this unifying step. The crumbs that fell on the floor were scrambled after by the guests, who took them as a token of good luck.
Eventually, people started using a prettier and tastier baked good—cakes—to celebrate the newly betrothed, which forced change upon the crumby bread tradition. At first, sweet wheat cakes were used, and the guests and groom simply crumbled several of them over the bride’s head, essentially showering her in food. Since cakes are a bit harder to just pick up and nom on, the ceremonious breaking of bread morphed into a more civilized slicing of cake on a table. To hang on to the idea of offering crumbs to the guests who were apparently in desperate need of luck, the bride took off her ring and pushed tiny morsels of the cake to each person as they got to the front of the line. BUT! The guests were not to eat their precious morsels. Instead, they were to put it under their pillow for good luck. It all seems kinda messy, don’t you think?
The next generation realized that the passing cake through the ring was, honestly, quite weird and also very tedious, and guests got greedy and were given whole slices of cake. But! The whole tradition couldn’t go by the wayside—no, they put those whole slices of cake under their pillow at night. Sounds like Lady Luck has a good sense of humor.
Gastronomica.org reports that once the aforementioned crumbled wheat cakes were “used up” at French weddings, the guests took to throwing nuts and dried fruits at the couple. At the weddings of those who could afford it, sweetmeats (confectionaries) were “thrown about enthusiastically.” This tradition actually morphed into the rice-throwing tradition, which morphed into flower petal and bird seed throwing (since birds were eating the rice and dying because the rice kernel soaked up the liquid in their little bellies and expanded until, well…), which now is sometimes replaced with more photogenic sequin wands and glitter.
While throwing things in celebration went rogue, the cake tradition went its own way. When war forced cultures to mix, the British tradition of making a tall cake caught on (probably because it’s way more fun and less messy.) If the bride and groom could kiss over the tall cake, it indicated they would have a happy and lucky life together. Eventually, these towering sweet cakes brought about the beautifully expensive cakes that are custom today, and the bride and groom smash theirs on one another while the guests politely eat 70 percent of theirs.
But, one of those pieces gets left behind and is given a special spot in the freezer of the happy couple. Why? Well, because people are cheap and presumptuous. Back in the olden days, it was generally agreed that the bride would get knocked up shortly after marriage, and if the cake from the wedding was kept in edible condition, then they could just use it for their little one’s christening.
This description of the exciting life of the wedding cake is actually quite short. A more expansive look at the history of wedding cakes involves pregnant hens, smashing plates, the misfortune of fruitcake, a five hundred-pound royal wedding cake, and royal icing. Who knows what’s next?