For the next eight weeks, we’re going to spend some time learning about Western wedding traditions and why we as a culture continue to value and practice certain rituals. Often, I encounter couples struggling against new ideas (ahem, the first look) that suit their modern sensibilities because they feel so pressured to uphold “the old ways”. What most of us don’t realize however is that many of these old practices have (um, downright cray-cray) deeply misogynistic origins. Thankfully most of the more disturbing practices fell out of vogue as human beings spent more time showering and less time dreaming up ways to objectify women at weddings. Thanks guys, fist bump.
This week, we examine the history of wedding cake! The perfect, sugary topic to balance out all that medieval man-hating I just did! This tradition actually started back in Ancient Rome, when the groom would break a loaf of unsweetened barley bread over the bride’s head. This symbolized the “breaking” of her virginal state and her husband’s total dominance over her. Mmmm, tasty and romantic. Things got a little sweeter in Medieval England where cakes were stacked up on top of each other and the bride and groom would try to kiss over the top of them. If they could manage the kiss without toppling the stack their union would be lucky! The story goes that a pastry chef observed this practice and decided to ice the outside of the cakes which held them in place…and completely ruined the fun.
Cake was also apparently magical, as women would place pieces of it under their pillows to help call forth their future husbands. Note to self, start sleeping with wads of cash under pillow… The wedding cake of the day was not the fluffy confection we enjoy now. It was actually rather dense and full of fruit. The tradition of the bride and groom cutting the cake together grew out of the need for both of them to muscle up and saw through that brick o’ good luck. Once cut, the bride and groom would serve small pieces to all of their guests…with the bride actually passing the pieces she handed out through her ring for??? You guessed it, luck! Oh to live in a time when cake was a revered and magical luck machine and not something you had to hide in the closet to eat!
Eventually, sugar became more readily available and cakes got sweeter and less like fruity cement. Today the bride and groom cut it together as an expression of their new partnership, which I would say is a pretty decent evolution from the whole “total domination via cake” thing we started out with :) Brides don’t even have to stick to basic white icing as an expression of their virtue anymore…for that we have Facebook!
Come back next week and we’ll explore how diamond companies made us believe that all engagement rings must contain diamonds and that they must be “crushing debt” size to prove your love!