Tradition generally requires that the first cut of the cake be performed by bride and groom together, often with a ceremonial knife, or even a sword. An older, archaic tradition had the bride serve all portions to the groom's family, as a symbolic transfer of her household labor from her family to the grooms family.
Tradition may also dictate that the bride and groom feed the first bites of this cake to each other. Again, this may symbolize the new family unit formed and the replacement of the old parent-child union.
Other guests may then partake of the cake, portions may be taken home or shipped to people who missed the festivities.
A portion may be stored, and eaten by the couple at their first wedding anniversary, or at the christening of their first child.
The origins of the tradition of the wedding cake ars hard to determine. Sweets are traditional at many celebrations for most if not all cultures world-wide. Ancient Roman records detail sweets distributed at weddings.
Medieval and Renaissance resources also mention large cakes at weddings. Such cakes may have been fruitcake.
A large cake can take a long time to make, and without modern refrigeration, a heavy fat and sugar frosting may have prevented spoilage by limiting moisture exposure. Another possibility is the use of sugar and fat required satisfying the need for conspicuous consumption for the families involved in the wedding.
Henry VIII of England enacted a law specifying the quantity of sugar a cake may have, possibly to control or tax this prevailing convention.
During World War II, sugar was rationed in the UK, so icing could not be made, and cakes were reduced in size. To overcome cakes were often served inside a box which had been decorated with plaster of Paris, to resemble a larger, traditional cake.