What Each Layer Means in Wedding Cakes

by Elly Turner ; Updated September 28, 2017

Weddings are rituals full of actions that carry special significance.

Wedding Cake image by Mat Hayward from Fotolia.com

The tradition of the wedding cake dates back to Roman times, when the groom broke a barley cake over the bride's head to symbolize the end of her chastity. Today's more elaborate multi-tiered wedding cakes have both symbolic (and practical) meanings.

Origin

The now-classic three-layer or three-tiered wedding cakes date back to Victorian England, and were chiefly reserved for royalty. But, wedding cakes have had some symbolic meaning for centuries, including chastity, bounty and prosperity.

Symbolism

One tradition maintains that the top tier, or layer, of the wedding cake symbolizes the couple, that the bottom tier symbolizes the couple as a family, and the middle tier (or tiers) symbolize the child or children they hope to welcome to the family.

The Top Tier: Anniversary or Christening Layer?

While a widely-known tradition is saving the top layer of wedding cake in the freezer for the first anniversary, the original intent of saving the top layer differed. Before the widespread use of birth control, the top tier frequently was saved for the christening of the first child, which often arrived within a year of marriage.

Practical Uses

The more recent (and non-symbolic) tradition of the three tiers is to use the bottom tier for eating at the reception, the middle tier to distribute as gifts and souvenirs, and to save the top tier for a first anniversary.

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About the Author

Since 2005, Elly Turner's articles, essays, reviews and interviews have appeared regularly online and in print publications such as "Risen" and "Good News" magazines. She also has an essay in "The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes" from the University Press of Kentucky. She holds a Master of Arts in theological studies from Asbury Theological Seminary.