Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wedding Cakes: A Brief History

From 3-tiered wonders to bespoke creations, the wedding cake is arguably the single most important component of a wedding, besides the wedding dress. But where did the tradition come from?

The idea of using cake to confirm the marriage vows goes back to Roman times, where a small bread cake was broken above the head of the bride, symbolising good fortune. Similarly, it referred to the bride’s transformation from virgin to child-bearing property of her groom. And it also had its practical use; children born of couples who didn’t carry out the tradition during their ceremony were not allowed to take high office, a sign that the wedding cake was of particular importance for the future wellbeing of the couple’s ancestors.

As traditions evolved and the cakes began to become more elaborate in their design, the ritual of breaking the cake slowly faded as it became increasingly impractical. However, the meaning still endured, and during the mediaeval times, cakes still represented fertility and prosperity. According to some records, instead of breaking the cake, it was ritualistically thrown at the bride as a gesture of good luck. Perhaps not so lucky for the bride, however.

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It wasn’t until the Victorian era that wedding cakes started to be used for their aesthetic and decorative qualities as the wedding banqueting venue become more elaborate. The white wedding cake was a sign of purity and therefore a reference to the bride, reinforcing that she was the star attraction of the day. Interestingly, the cake was also a sign of affluence, since only the finest sugars could be used to create the white icing that surrounded the cake. As a result, this was a turning point in its use; from a symbol of virtue to a symbol of status.

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In the 1950s, the tradition of having a wedding cake topper to depict the bride and groom was seen as a symbol of togetherness. For the United Kingdom, in particular, a royal wedding usually involves very elaborate cake designs. In order to accommodate the hundreds of guests attending the wedding, the cake is usually cut into small portions and put into little boxes.  Today, wedding cakes come in all shapes and sizes and with that the meanings behind them are a mixture of old and new. In particular, there is a trend recently to make several batches of cupcakes and position them on a cake stand to mimic the idea of a traditional cake, which seems related to the arts and crafts renaissance that permeates lifestyle trends at the moment.

Holmewood Hall is a wedding, conference, and reception venue located in Cambridgeshire and serving the UK.