There's really something to be said for the "hand fast" tradition:
This marriage lasted a year and a day, after which time the couple could 're-up' together forever, or leave the relationship, taking everything that each one had brought into it.
Whenever did we lose that part of the process? It seems incredibly valuable, and certainly seems to make the whole prospect of eternal union a bit less daunting, with the inclusion of an understood trial period. I wonder who decided to eliminate that aspect of the tradition, and when... and why. That kind of trial aspect seems so necessary and reasonable and realistic and... smart. Such a granted period would probably be greatly beneficial to the dwindling state of the institution today. Perhaps cohabitation has replaced that trial period as the more modern version of the hand fast's first year?
Also interesting is that origin of the wedding cake you note:
...Bring Your Own Biscuits. The biscuits were then piled high and the higher the stack, the more wealthy and happy the couple would be. After the couple kissed over the top of the hill of cakes, the pieces were handed out among the poor.
There's a certan tragedy to the evolution and updating of these traditions that I'm noticing, because they lose their meaning the more removed they become from their origins. It's like reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance": we do it at moments deemed and understood as appropriate, facing the flag with our right hands over our hearts as we "should." But typically, there's little to no meaning in the words when we say them anymore--it's recitation simply because it's what we've been told we should do, and not necessarily because we understand, care, believe, or even register the words we speak.
It's the same with these traditions--the wedding cake emerged with such a specific and profound, heartfelt purpose but that purpose goes unnoted today in the quest for the prettiest, most grandiose x-tiered wedding cake that no reception is complete without. The actions are repeated without so much as acknowledgement of their original meaning--recitation with no regard, just as with The Pledge.
It all ties in very well to the lost idea and understanding of the institution of marriage itself in our society. The disregard and lack of understanding seems to carry over--again, the motions are repeated without sincere understanding of what they're all about, how it all began, and what it really means and requires. We've seen it and want it--that everlasting union that marriage supposedly represents--but now with no sincere understanding of it, and thus inadequate knowledge to understand how to handle or maintain it anymore, as we've lost touch with the roots of the institution.