Las Arras

Las arras, or Las arras matrimoniales (wedding tokens or unity coins) are wedding paraphernalia used in Christian and Catholic wedding ceremonies in Spain, Latin American countries, and the Philippines. The tradition is also followed, with varying names and customs, in countries and communities bearing degrees of Hispanic influence. Traditionally, in Spain and Latin America, it is made up of thirteen gold coins presented in an ornate box or chest; in the Philippines, it is in an ornate basket or pouch. After being blessed by a priest, they are given or presented by the groom to the bride.

The word arras is a Spanish word meaning “earnest money”, “bride price”, or “bride wealth”. The custom of using coins in weddings can be traced to a number of places including Spain and Rome. The ancient Roman custom includes the act of breaking gold or silver equally into two pieces. This signifies the promise to marry by two individuals. The Spanish tradition of Mozarabic origin does not include treating the set of coins as a representation of the bridal dowry or a way of hastening prosperity.

Arras_matrimoniales2_PD_2014The 13 coins carry multiple meanings and vary by culture. Generally, the symbolic gesture communicates the couple’s trust in each other to share the responsibility of managing the household finances. The groom makes a pledge to provide for his family while the bride vows to honor the blessings God has put into their lives.

Presented to the groom by an honored padrinos or madrinas (godparent) and blessed by el padre (priest), the coins are also a good luck token to ensure the couple will never be without money. It is also said that each coin represents continued prosperity for each month of the year, with a little extra to spare.

Additionally, the odd number is not dividable, just as a strong marriage should be. Since the tradition is deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, the coins also symbolize Jesus and his 12 apostles.

The presentation of the coins can occur anytime during the Catholic wedding ceremony, but traditionally the groom gives them to the bride after the blessing and exchanging of the marriage rings. Modern couples who wish to incorporate multiple unity ceremonies have included it after the introduction and vows but before the ring exchange.

The padrino/madrina is responsible for buying the arras as a symbol of their support and good wishes for the couple’s success. Most often, the padrino/madrina de arras passes the coins to the priest, which are encased in an ornate el cofre (miniature chest). Filipino ceremonies usually have an arrhae bearer, who presents the coins on a pillow, in a lavishly decorated basket or in a simple pouch. After the arras blessing, the priest passes the coins to the bride, who places them in the groom’s cupped hands. The groom then pours them back into the bride’s cupped hands and places the box on top.

The back and forth exchange symbolizes the couple’s commitment to sharing their life juan-manuel-mendez-595078-unsplashtogether, for richer or poorer. In some cultures, the coins are presented one at a time to represent love, trust, commitment, respect, joy, happiness, harmony, wisdom, nurturing, caring, cooperation and peace. The lazo ceremony, which involves wrapping a unity cord around the couple’s shoulders, typically follows.

Since the marriage coins become a family heirloom, it is most common for the parents or padrino/madrina to pass on their set to the newlyweds.

Wedding vendors and Catholic supply stores sell a variety of arras from $10 for gold-plated coins to $200 for sterling silver. The coins are usually plain but can be etched with a special symbol to represent love, faith or the couple. The container, which ranges from a simple gold box to a crystal-encrusted heart, is usually included with the purchase of the coins.

Silver Sixpence and Other Love Coin Traditions

Coins appear frequently in folklore, mythology, and superstition, and they feature heavily in legends about relationships.

 

img_4241The old phrase often recited to brides, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” used to have a final phrase: “and a silver sixpence in her shoe.” It is a custom in Great Britain (as well as other countries) for a father to place a sixpence or other coin into the shoe of a bride. (In Sweden, the bride’s mother puts a gold coin in her other shoe as well.) The coin is said to bring wealth, happiness, and luck. Wales has a slightly different version, in which a coin is put into the cork from the bottle of champagne served to the newly married couple; the cork then serves as a souvenir and good-luck charm. In Derbyshire, girls would put the silver sixpence under their pillows, with a sprig of rosemary, in hopes of dreaming of their future husband.

 

The “luck of the Irish” extends to coins and relationships, too. The old Irish custom of “luck money” paid to the family of the bride evolved into modern couples exchanging coins along with rings during the wedding ceremony. Some even say that if the coins clink during the exchange, it’s a sure sign that children will be added to the new family quickly. Traditionally, the groom would give his bride a new coin, as a symbol of sharing all of his possessions. The coin would become a family keepsake; when the couple’s eldest son came to be married, the coin would be passed to him as a good luck charm, and he would present his own bride with a new coin.

 

 

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19th century English love token coin. Photo credit: Woody1778a on Flickr, used under CC by SA 2.0.

In Poland, instead of throwing confetti, wedding guests toss coins at the couple; the couple then gathers up all the coins, which is intended to be a bonding experience. Nearby Lithuania adds a coin with the couple’s initials on it: the bridesmaids and groomsmen collect the coins, and whoever ends up with the special coin gets to dance with the bride or groom. It’s said that this tradition sprang up around a poor young couple who were engaged to be married. Since he couldn’t buy a ring, the groom-to-be carved a design into a coin for his bride. Before the wedding could take place, he was sent off to war; for ten years, his fiancee waited for him to return. Return he did, but in the intervening years, the coin had been stolen. When the wedding finally occurred, the village collected coins so that the returning war hero and his bride could afford rings. One of the coins collected was the very same carved coin that had been lost; the ecstatic couple grabbed the villager who had contributed it, and all three began to dance with joy.

 

 

An old Roman custom of paying for broken pledges resulted in the Hispanic wedding tradition of giving the bride 13 gold coins, often in an ornate box, as a symbol of the husband’s pledge to care for her. This is called “las arras,” from the Latinate word “arrhae.” (Quite a few of these coin and box sets are posted on Pinterest.)
wedding-1404620_960_720India has many different cultural practices, as it is a large and diverse nation; one of the most poignant is a tradition known as “vidai,” in which the bride scatters coins behind her as she leaves her parents’ house; the coins are intended as acknowledgement and repayment of all the sacrifices they have made in raising her.

 

 

China also uses coins to mark and celebrate relationships, striking coins for engagements, wedding ceremonies, and the actual marriage. The Chinese philosophy of feng shui dictates that shiny coins must be displayed on bright red fabric, to enhance their good fortune.

 

 

As indicators of wealth and fortune, coins will always be popular subjects of folklore and superstition. And the next time you hear that little rhyme for the bride, you’ll know how it’s supposed to end!

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

Mysterious Lover’s Eye Miniatures

They’re so mysterious that no one but the original wearer knows whose eye they display, and that’s kind of the point.

These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.

It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of romance.

The alleged beginning of these “lover’s eyes” comes from the prince of Wales, later King George IV, who once became determined to court a Catholic, twice-widowed woman named Maria Fitzherbert. The court frowned upon this courting and at first Maria Fitzherbert was not particularly impressed either. Finally, she reluctantly agreed to marry him, though their marriage would not be officially recognized since George III had not approved it.

Some accounts say that Maria came to her senses before the marriage and fled to America. But the prince did not give up. He sent her a locket with a miniature painting of his eye inside and the note, “P.S. I send you a parcel, and I send you at the same time an eye. If you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance, I think the likeness will strike you.” Whether it was the portrait or his letter, Maria decided to give in and marry George. Rumors say that George kept a portrait of Maria’s eye as well.

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The whole event sparked an interest in miniature eye portraits. Worn not only by lovers and spouses, but also close family members and friends, they were the perfect way to openly wear special jewelry without having to worry about anyone knowing who was being represented.

Miniaturists like Richard Cosway and George Engleheart were some of the first to paint these pieces.

Some say these trinkets were a French invention, though no one knows for sure. Lady Eleanor Butler wrote in her diary at the time of the fad, “an Eye, done in Paris and set in a ring – a true French idea.”

Only limited amounts of eye miniatures from the 18th and 19th centuries exist today. The estimated number is under 1,000.

You can find the eyes most often set in lockets, brooches and rings, often surrounded by jewels or pearls. The biggest currently known collection is owned by the Skiers of Birmingham, Alabama, who have been collecting these pieces for decades.