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.

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