Wedding Reception: History & Tradition

Why a reception?

Wedding feasts have been a part of the marriage tradition around the world since early times. It is not only an opportunity to celebrate the new union, but the feast starts the new couple off on a path of joy and good wishes for a happy life.

Wedding Traditions

The reception holds many rituals carried over from past generations and cultures. The throwing of the bridal bouquet first began as throwing the bride's garter in 14th Century France. The removal was not easy or graceful. Finally, one bride gave up and threw her bouquet instead. And the rest, as you know, is history. The tradition has evolved into the groom now throwing the garter to eligible bachelors.

The receiving line can involve the bride and groom and their families or the entire wedding party and takes place as the guests are entering the reception area. If you plan to have a receiving line, confirm the proper order with a good etiquette book. We recommend, “The New Manners for the 90's” by Letitia Baldrige. And if the reception follows immediately after the wedding, you might want to have a cocktail party to entertain guests while you take pictures.

Another age-old tradition is the guest book. Today we can add a modern twist and have a video guest book. Not only will the tape last a lifetime, over the years you'll enjoy watching your friends as they ham it up for the camera. Another modern idea is to get a favorite photograph of you and your spouse-to-be. Have it blown up to poster size and slightly faded. Have the poster hanging at the reception with colorful markers nearby and invite your guests to sign the image as they would the Guest Book. Remember—it’s your wedding and you get to decide how you want to save it for posterity.


The cake is probably the most important part of any wedding feast. Nearly every culture has some form of cake that is shared between the bride and groom—from a cake of meal in American Indian and Fiji Islander traditions to the Romans’ use of salted meal cakes broken over the bride’s head, symbolizing abundance and fertility. Today the cake ceremony signifies the promise to nurture and "feed" each other.

There are two kinds of cakes that are traditionally offered at modern day receptions: the wedding cake and groom's cake.

The Wedding Cake

There are so many types of wedding cakes today that creating them has become an art form. Bakers specialize in wedding cakes, and quite frankly, they have added a new dimension to the party. You can have your cake sculptured into a likeness of you and the groom, your favorite image or a symbol of your new life—just about anything goes! Even the traditional white cake is sometimes replaced with chocolate, yellow or even carrot cake. It is your choice.

And here is an interesting twist for the cost conscious. Some places charge a "per slice fee" for cutting the cake and serving it to guests. One baker cleverly came up with the idea of making several cupcakes (enough for each guest plus some) and putting them all together to create a larger cake. No one knew the secret until time to "Cut the cake!"

The Groom's Cake

This cake was traditionally a dark fruitcake, cut up and packaged in little white boxes with the bride's and groom's initials embossed in silver. Today the groom's cake is often chocolate and offered as an alternative to the white wedding cake. If the groom is a football fan, the cake may be shaped like a football, or if he is fond of scuba diving, a clever cake decorator could create an underwater scene. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.