The Meaning Behind Eight Popular Wedding Cake Traditions

Yes, your wedding cake is white for a reason.
Lauren Dana Ellman - The Knot Contributor.
by Lauren Dana
Lauren Dana Ellman - The Knot Contributor.
Lauren Dana
The Knot Contributor
  • Lauren is a contributor for The Knot covering topics such as music, cakes, venues and speeches.
  • She has been published in a wide array of lifetsyle-oriented publications including SELF and Allure.
  • Lauren is a proud graduate of Syracuse University's SI Newhouse School of Public Communication.
Updated Sep 28, 2021

Wedding cakes are so much more than just tasty desserts. In fact, many of today's wedding cake traditions are actually steeped in cultural significance, with fascinating histories dating back to Roman Times.

While modern wedding cake designs and alternative desserts (i.e., cupcakes, cake pops and donut walls) are currently trending, many newlyweds opt to incorporate one (or more) classic wedding cake traditions into their wedding receptions.

What's more story behind each common wedding cake tradition is incredibly fascinating. To get the lowdown on the most common wedding cake traditions and what they mean, we reached out to bakers, pastry chefs and a handful of other wedding cake pros.

1. Freezing the Top Tier

Many newlyweds opt to save the top tier of their wedding cake by stashing it in the freezer. On the one-year anniversary of their wedding, couples will defrost the cake and eat it together. This tradition dates all the way back to the 19th century when couples would eat the preserved top layer of their cake on the day of their first child's christening.

Helene Godin, founder and CEO of By The Way Bakery, which has locations throughout New York and Connecticut, recommends having your caterer pack up the top tier of your cake to ensure it's securely sealed for your first wedding anniversary. Or, if you don't have a ton of freezer space, Godin suggests freezing a small piece of cake instead.

2. Doing Wedding Cake Pulls

Cake pulls, which date back to the Victorian era, are a popular wedding tradition in the South. As part of the cake pull tradition, the wedding cake baker places ribbon-adorned charms on the bottom layer of the cake once it's cooled and before it's iced. At the wedding reception, the newly married couple can have single friends and wedding party members take turns "pulling" charms from the cake. The most common charms include clovers for good luck and purses for good fortune.

3. Sharing Your Wedding Cake With Guests

In most cultures, "the tradition of everyone sharing the same celebratory confection symbolizes good luck and wishes for a sweet future," according to Erin Emmett, a pastry chef and founder of Pistachio Culinary Studio in Brooklyn, New York. For example, she tells The Knot that old French tradition calls for a giant croquembouche (which she describes as "a tower of cream puffs") to be served at wedding receptions. She continues, "Traditionally, the couple uses a sword to break the tower, causing all the cream puffs to fall. Guests then reach for a cream puff to wish the couple a sweet future."

4. Having a White Wedding Cake

White wedding cakes date back to the Victorian era. Per Emmett, "If you go back really far, white sugar was extremely expensive, so a white cake symbolized the family's wealth and social standing." According to Emmett, the white cake (along with the traditional white wedding dress) also symbolized purity and the start of the marriage unions.

5. Sleeping With a Piece of Cake Under Your Pillow

One 17th century-era superstition says that sleeping with a slice of wedding cake under your pillow will lead you to dream of your future spouse. While it's not feasible to sleep with an actual piece of cake under your pillow, some couples may choose to gift guests with miniature wedding cake replicas or charms as wedding reception favors for an extra fun, lighthearted touch.

6. Cutting the Cake in Front of Guests

According to Meg Walker, CEO and executive chef at Made by Meg Catering in Redondo Beach, California, the cake cutting is often used as a symbol for older guests that the day's activities have been completed. She continues, telling The Knot: "The cake cutting can be a sweet send-off and a kind way for guests who need to scoot home to say they truly celebrated your big day."

7. Decorating Your Cake With a Cake Topper

Wedding cake toppers date back hundreds of years. "The tale goes that a baker's daughter wanted her cake to be extra special, so they fashioned a bride and groom for the top of her cake to look like the couple," says Tara Allison of Sweets Bakehouse in Bradenton, Florida. Eventually, she says, this idea stuck, and thus the wedding cake topper was born into existence. Today, you can find all sorts of different cake toppers to suit you and your future spouse's style preferences.

8. Having a Groom's Cake

Groom's cakes originated in 19th century England. According to Allison, the groom's cakes originally represented how well the bride knew the groom's preferences. Today, these cakes are no longer exclusive to just grooms, brides, or any gender. Instead, they now serve as a fun and delicious way for you and your new spouse to surprise one another. For example, consider selecting each other's favorite flavors or having your baker incorporate your partner's hobbies into the cake design.

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