New Year’s Good Luck Cake

Vasilopita is a New Year’s Day bread or cake in Greece and many other areas in eastern Europe, which contains a hidden coin that is believed to bring luck to the one who obtains the coin. It is associated with Sainr Basil’s day. (Saint Basil’s Feast Day is observed on January 1, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season known as the Vasilopita Observance) January 1, in most of Greece, but in some regions, the traditions surrounding a cake with a hidden coin are associated with Epiphany or Christmas The dough in which the coin is placed varies immensely depending on personal preference and location/region. In some families, instead of dough, it is made from a custard base. The pie is known as Chronópita, meaning New Year’s Pie.

On New Year’s Day families cut the vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. This is usually done at the midnight of New Year’s Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. At midnight the sign of the cross is etched with a knife across the cake. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. 

In older times, the coin often was a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign. As time went on, the tradition of a costly coin (in most cases) changed. In more modern times, a gift, money or prize is given to the coin recipient. Many private or public institutions, such as societies, clubs, workplaces, companies, etc., cut their vasilopita on New Year’s Day and the beginning of the Great Lent, in celebrations that range from impromptu potluck gatherings to formal receptions or balls.

How did this tradition start you may ask? In popular belief, vasilopita is associated with a legend of Basil of Caesarea. According to one story, Basil called on the Roman citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the enemy forces from surrounding the city, cutting off essential supplies with the aim of compelling the surrender of those inside. Each individual of the city gave what they had in gold and jewelry. When the ransom was raised, the  adversary was so embarrassed by the people’s cooperation that he called off the siege without taking a thing. Basil was then tasked with returning the unpaid ransom, but had no way of knowing which items belonged to which family, so he baked all of the jewelry into loaves of bread and distributed the loaves around the city, and by a miracle each citizen received their exact share.

Wedding Cake Toppers

Weddings have always induced a traditional way of thinking – from the extravagant white dress to the exchanging of vows down to the little figurines topping a stacked pearly cake.  Well, times have changed and so has the wedding cake topper!

Wedding toppers have become a key element of weddings over the years and have a more extensive history than you might imagine.  No wedding is complete without a beautiful and mouthwatering baked delicacy.  The concept of the wedding cake extends back to the ancient Roman Empire.  Cakes were made of whole wheat flour and were not so sweetly lavished. These bread cakes would then be broken, possibly over the bride’s head, and guests would excitedly consume the pieces for good luck.

Wedding cake toppers, or wedding cake ornaments are derived from various cultural traditions. Most significantly the toppers represent a symbol of togetherness for the bride and groom.  Another traditional symbol is the white wedding cake, white being a universal symbol for purity.

In the United States, wedding cake decorations started appearing in middle income and affluent families before the American Civil War.  Cake toppings, ornaments and toppers became even more common in the 1890’s.  At this time the decorations were minimal, often including flowers, bells and small objects associated with the bride and groom.  In the 1920’s, High Society incorporated the use of placing bride and groom figurines on top of wedding cakes, along with all the other frills.

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Once introduced, the popularity of cake topper figurines was fueled by two historical United States events.

First, in 1922 revered etiquette expert and Best-Selling author, Miss Emily Post published that, “The wedding cake is an essential of every wedding reception.”  She elaborated, commenting specifically that, “It is usually in several tiers, beautifully decorated with white icing and topped by small figures of the bride and groom.”

Secondly, American retail giants such as Sears and Roebuck & Company began mass producing and selling the bride and groom wedding cake figurines.  These toppers commonly depicted the bride in a white dress, either with or without a veil, and the groom standing beside her in a tuxedo.  Some were shown holding hands, others under a gazebo, but all in the classic wedding theme.

In a 2006 article entitled “Bride and Groom Wedding Cake Toppers,” author Robert Reed writes about deals on wax toppers advertised in wholesale catalogs in 1924: “The catalog listing offered them as a couple, or in groups of 100 for wedding favors.” Reed also comments on the significance of including cake toppers in the Sears 1927 mail order catalog, stating it included an entire page devoted to wedding cake ornaments.  This anecdote helps illustrate the significance of the toppers at that time.

Wedding cake toppers maintained dominance in the Unites States through the 1950s. The ornaments were a nonperishable piece of the cake that could be kept over years and passed down through families.  However, through the later half of the 20th century toppers declined in popularity, possibly by association of being “old-fashioned.”

Today, many couples continue to embrace the ceremony of a traditional wedding.  However, the modern bride is no longer expected to hold herself to the standards previously associated with weddings.  There is a transition happening, away from the traditional wedding formula, and toward weddings as a celebration of a couples’ individuality.  On track with this trend, cake toppers are becoming more reflective of a wedding’s decorative theme or specific reception style.

With this surge in non-traditional weddings, cake toppers are making a valiant comeback. Available now are toppers that reflect diversity in marriages including: multi-ethnic toppers, same-sex toppers, comical & humorous toppers and toppers that reflect a couples’ hobbies and interests.  Cake toppers are now outlets of self-expression, as opposed to simply being icons of togetherness.

Here at The Stamp & Coin place we’ve embraced the old and new versions of the wedding tradition.  Cake toppers are a wonderful keepsake from any type of wedding, and can make a great conversation piece or even a collectible.  We’d love to see any unique cake toppers you’ve come across, so please feel free to share!

By Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada (Custom Wedding Cake Topper) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Clever Cupcakes from Montreal, Canada (Custom Wedding Cake Topper) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

That Just Takes the Cake!

You’ve heard the phrase before – often as an expression of incredulity. “That just takes the cake!”

But what does cake have to do with winning the prize, so to speak?

You may think it comes down to the game that revolves all around cakes, the cake walk – but the first “take the cake” reference occurred circa 420 B.C. Aristophanes’ fourth play The Knights, a tale of Athens during the Peloponnesian War, contained a line that literally translates to, “If you surpass him in impudence the cake is ours.” Of course, this doesn’t refer to a literal cake (though that would be pretty cool too). It uses “cake” as a metaphor for victory.

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“The true cake walk at the new circus.”

While this is a logical origin of the phrase, the use came and went in just the one line – disappearing until the 19th century. This is when William Trotter Porter’s A Quarter Race in Kentucky used this line: “They got up a horse and fifty dollars in money a side…each one to start and ride his own horse…the winning horse take [sic] the cakes.” Once again, cake refers to victory.

This is where the cake walk comes in. In black southern communities of the U.S., couples dressed their best and paraded through a course with cakes with their best walk. The best-dressed, most charismatic couple won the walk, often winning some of the cakes they had walked through.

See this 1874 reference to a cake walk: “The cake-walk, in which ten couples participated, came off on Friday night, and the judges awarded the cake, which was a very beautiful and costly one, to Mrs. Sarah and John Jackson.”

It’s still a mystery as to why Aristophanes’ first real “take the cake” disappeared for centuries, and why it only reappeared in the 19th century.

 

Sources:

Phrases.org

Historical Origins