After the ribbons are pulled and everyone has licked the icing off of the charm and ribbon to identify the attached charm (usually followed by hugs and laughter and/or commiseration), the groom joins the bride to perform the ceremonial cutting of the cake-which usually consists of simply making the first slice into the cake. The caterer or someone else appointed to the task does the actual cutting up of the cake into slices for distribution to the guests.
Variants of the tradition, which emphasise the importance of the ring in the custom, have also developed. In the early 1960s, my uncle asked the bakery to put a ring on every ribbon in my cousin’s wedding cake, as he wished to avoid disappointing anyone. At the wedding of one of my nieces, however, the bakery failed to include a ring on any of the ribbons-a mistake not easily forgiven by those present who were determined to pull the ring. In 1999, a bride in her midthirties with all of her sisters and friends already married, arranged that her young nieces, aged from five to seventeen years, should pull the ribbons instead of the usual single marriageable women.
The custom of ribbon pulling at weddings is generally believed in New Orleans to be of French or French Creole origin, and many of the bakeries in the New Orleans area believe it to be a uniquely New Orleans custom-although it is not unknown in other parts. The kinds of charms used are available on several Internet sites, all of which describe this as a Victorian custom. Jannice Moecklin, owner of the business “Swiss Confectionery” in New Orleans, said in an article “The Ribbon Pulls,” in New Orleans Magazine in 1998: “This is an old custom brought over from France. To the Creoles of New Orleans, this was an exciting part of the wedding event, and has continued to the present time.” She also said that, in the past, silver trinkets were baked in the wedding cake and that the custom of ribbon pulls seems to pertain only to the New Orleans area. Miss Lotus, who has been in charge of wedding cakes at Gambino’s bakery for fifty years, concurs. Although they order their sterling silver “wedding pulls” (the only kind Gambino’s uses) from New York, she maintains that New Orleans is the only place she knows of that has this tradition. She also said that even people who had moved away try to continue the custom and often get someone from New Orleans to call to Gambino’s to get the charms so that they can put them in their wedding cakes.
Limited Edition Fortune Cake Charms
The ribbon-pulls tradition in New Orleans and vicinity is not restricted to any religious or ethnic group. It is a city and area- wide tradition. Dianne Gaines, a New Orleans native, graduate of Xavier University, and wife of Louisiana writer Ernest Gaines, said that everyone she knew in the Creole and African American communities in New Orleans had ribbons in their wedding cakes in the 1950s and 1960s. This custom continues among these ethnic groups to the present day.
Pulling a ribbon from the wedding cake is considered an honour-a sign of friendship or of close family ties to the bride. But there is also the possibility of offending people unless the recognised protocol concerning who gets asked to “pull” is observed. All unmarried bridesmaids pull a ribbon, and then young unmarried female relatives (sisters and cousins) of the bride and/or groom, as well as friends of the bride, are usually invited to “pull.”
Usually the maid of honour will have the job of asking girls to “pull” after conferring with the bride. Sometimes the bride tells young women before the wedding that she would like them to “pull a ribbon.” Where one stands in relation to where the wedding cake is placed is also important, since a popular belief is that the ring is usually on the ribbon to the right of the bride-often the position of the maid of honour.
The ribbon pulling precedes the cutting of the cake and it is performed in the absence of the groom. The bride is surrounded by young, unmarried women; the bridesmaids, and the friends, sisters, or cousins of the bride, gather round the cake while the bride stands right behind it. She is in command, and she usually makes sure that everyone is holding a ribbon. Then she gives the command to “pull.”
Modern Cake Pulls
Traditional Cake Pulls
At weddings in the New Orleans area, the ceremony of cutting the wedding cake is preceded by another ritual- pulling ribbons from the cake.
“Pulling a ribbon” is one of many wedding rituals in the New Orleans area that add a special sense of place and setting to the wedding, apart from being a well- known tradition that is meaningful
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Ring - Next to get engaged Chili Peppers - A hot romance is around the corner Mask - A big secret will be revealed Stork - First to have a baby Heart - New love will bloom Anchor - Very little will change in your life this year Alligator - Will live the longest Camera - The year will bring the most beautiful memories of your life Four Leaf Clover - A year of good luck Eiffel Tower - A year full of adventure and travel
I already knew about the charms. Our daughter put charms like these in her wedding cake in August 1991. I found the tradition in some wedding information and thought it would be fun to follow through with the tradition here in NW Iowa - not in New Orleans.
Grace Hertz, Member of Team Fletcher
This looks like so much fun. Perhaps, we could do this at retirement parties and pull on a charm for picking up a new hobby, a travel vacation spot, a new car ... This is a great tradition. I'm all aboard for this one!
Have you ever pulled a charm from a wedding cake?
N.B. Yes I have. I've pulled the ribbon so many times, and caught so many bouquets. But I am glad to report that the inoculation hasn.t "taken". - Q. Gen.
It seems that many really neat traditions come out of New Orleans. This one reminded me of the King's Cake and I think there was a version of that out of N.O. as well.
I feel almost robbed of some of these ceremonies. My celebrations over the years seem to have been quite dull by comparison.
I came away from this quiz with a question:
Does this tradition originate in France or Northern England and Scotland?
N.B. Probably in England during the Victorian era. - Q. Gen.
The button and the thimble would mean she is going to be an old maid. (If she caught the bouquet, would that cancel out the old maid curse?)
I think it looks like a “charm”ing custom. While the word “klutz” isn’t officially part of my name, sometimes I think it should be. I can just see me pulling out the charm and the whole cake toppling over.
N.B. Hey, it's happened! (But not on my watch). - Q. Gen.
I've been down with something this whole week and finally felt interested enough today to check out the quiz ... SO GLAD that I did!!
Elaine C. Hebert (Native of New Orleans)
CAKE PULLS!!!! A fabulous southern tradition. At least in the deep south.
Having lived in New Orleans since 1967 I thought I'd take a shot at this puzzle without any research.
I've been to several, basically boring traditional Mardi Gras Balls where, while wearing a tux, the spectators watch from the sidelines while pompus a***s strut their stuff on the ballroom floor.
Keeping that in mind; these charms strike me as possible trinkets associated with Mardi Gras Balls and perhaps used for call out dances.
This would occur not only in New Orleans but also surrounding towns including the Gulf Coast and even in Mobile where perhaps the first Mardi Gras event ever occurred
N. B. Sorry Jim, wrong answer. - Q. Gen.
I wish I had known of this lovely tradition when I was planning my wedding!!
Method: Image-googled "charms on ribbons" and eventually ran across Rhonda's page.
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Diane Scannell Dan Thimgan Carol Farrant Elaine C. Hebert Gus Marsh Dennis Brann Ellen Welker Kim Richardson Cindy Costigan Diane Abbott Judy Pfaff Tynan Peterson Marcelle Comeau Carol Stansell Jim Kiser Robin Depietro Ruth Brannigan Edna Cardinal Sally Garrison Dan Thimgan Collier Smith Timothy Fitzpatrick Dennis Brann Beth Long
Grace Hertz and Mary Turner Team Fletcher!
These charms are for a Bridesmaids' Cake Pull, generally a Southern tradition, and more specifically a New Orleans tradition. If the bridesmaid pulls or draws an anchor out of the cake it is supposed to represent adventure(or a life of drudgery); the gator drawer will live the longest (unless a gator gets her first); the camera drawer will have a year of beautiful memories for life (or will be a Playboy model); the clover drawer will have good luck (or will graze in a field somewhere); the Eiffel tower drawer will have adventure and travel (or will attempt a free fall jump without being arrested); the rings drawer will be next to be married (or become a prizefighter); the peppers drawer will have a hot new romance (or get throat-scorched from some habeneros); the mask drawer will have a big secret revealed (or will star with Johnny Depp in a movie); the stork drawer will be 1st to have a baby (or have a very different tasting Thanksgiving "turkey" dinner! ); the heart drawer will find new love (or break someone's heart!)
A Charming Interpretation by Dennis Brann
Picture Frame - Lifetime of memories Anchor - Love that is steady and true Cross - Life of peace and tranquility Butterfly - Eternal beauty Heart - A life filled with love Music Notes - Life of harmony Star - Wishes come true Fleur de Lis - Life of prosperity
Popsicle - Life of sweet surprises Horseshoe - Good luck will find you Airplane - Life of travel and adventure Crown - May you be treated like a princess Nail Polish - Enjoy fun nights out Text Happy Face - Good news is coming Corkscrew - Lots to celebrate Key - Love holds the key to your heart
for family and friends who come together to joyfully celebrate a marriage.
Wedding cakes in the New Orleans area come with ribbons embedded in the icing. At the wedding reception, unmarried female friends of the bride are invited to “pull a ribbon.” A silver charm or “favour” hidden in the bottom layer of the cake is attached to each ribbon. Typically, each woman or young girl holds on to a ribbon as a photograph is taken, and then all “pull” simultaneously on cue.
Charms include a ring, a heart, a thimble, a button, a horseshoe, a clover-and sometimes a fleur-de-lis-an anchor, a dime, and also a penny. Each has a traditional meaning-the ring means “next to marry,” the heart means “true love,” the thimble or button means “old maid,” the horseshoe or the clover means “good luck,” the fleur- de- lis means “love will bloom,” the anchor means “hope,” the dime means “wealth,” and the penny means “poverty.” This event gets the attention of all the guests, and the moment of the pulling is followed by good wishes or teasing depending on which item a person pulls.
Coffee cup - Leisurely conversations Text LOL - Laughter with friends Hanger - Love of fashion Flip-flops - Time to relax Chocolate bar - For life's sweet indulgences Cell phone - Connecting with friends
As seen in Victorian Homes magazine:
Ring - For marriage Heart - For love Pen - For fame Key - For success Thimble - For work Shell - For travel Silver piece - For riches Button - For old maid or bachelor
This tradition has been a part of wedding receptions in New Orleans itself, and in an area within about a fifty-mile radius of the city, including the adjacent river parishes (i. e. the parishes divided by the Mississippi River), for at least seventy-five years and probably much longer-according to dated memorabilia and personal narratives. The earliest wedding cake with ribbon pulls that I have been able to document was that of my mother, whose wedding took place at Evergreen Plantation near New Orleans, in 1928. One of my aunts, Olivia Gendron (now aged ninety-two years), has the white ribbon in her “Memory Book,” and written next to it is the comment, “Ribbon pulled from Boos’s wedding cake”-Boos being my mother’s nickname. The silver charm-a thimble-is no longer there, but she remembers that it was prophetic for her as she never married. Another aunt, Marguerite Hingle (now aged ninety-four years), also recalls pulling a ribbon in my mother’s wedding cake and remembers that she got the button; she did, however, marry a few years later. Both aunts described in detail the wedding, the cake, and the ritual of pulling the ribbons. They also did not think that it was unusual to have ribbons in the cake at that time as their own mother and grandmother always understood that ribbons were part of the wedding cake, and that only the unmarried girls present at the wedding could pull them.
Since the 1950s, the ribbon-pulling ritual has been considered an important photograph moment during a wedding reception, one that provides a requisite photograph for the wedding album (see Figure 1). In my own family’s photograph collections, for example, there are photographs of ribbon pulls at the weddings of at least four generations of brides.
Although it is commonly assumed in New Orleans that ribbon pulls in wedding cakes are a French tradition, I have found no evidence to date to suggest that it was ever a custom in France. It is not mentioned by Van Gennep in his encyclopaedic study of French folklore and traditions, which includes an extensive survey of wedding and marriage traditions throughout France. Although van Gennep tal\ks about the presentation of the wedding cake, and says that in many places an enormous cake, le gateau de noces, is carried in by a strong young man who raises it above his head and dances it around the tables, as part of a ritual called danser les gateaux, no ribbons or charms are mentioned (Van Gennep 1946, vol. 2, 513-26). There is also no mention of this tradition in Simon Charsley’s (1992) Wedding Cakes and Cultural History.
Having ribbon pulls in wedding cakes is more specifically and more closely related, however, to a tradition Simon Charsley regards as being “distinctively Scottish,” and a custom that continues to be popular in Glasgow to this day (Charsley 1987, 98-101; 1992, 12- 13). According to Charsley, Scottish wedding cakes have inedible ornaments (often with ribbons attached) called favours on the cake, which are removed when the cake is cut and given by the bride and bridesmaids to the women guests (Charsley 1992, 12). In England, favours were once lightly tacked to the dress of the bride and pulled off by the bridesmaids: “In the seventeenth century favours were usually knots of ribbon which were distributed to those whom it was desired to associate with the wedding and to honour” (Charsley 1992,97). Favours were later moved from the dress to the cake. This practice died out in England but reappeared in Scotland in the twentieth century on the bride’s cake (Charsley 1992, 97).
The British wedding cake, now a typically dark, rich fruitcake with white icing, is apparently derived from elements dating originally from medieval and early modern times. The form as we know it, however, seems to have developed in the Victorian period (Charsley 1988, 237; 1992, 82), when the cake, an elaborate structure with a tendency to rise into tiers, became an important part of the wedding celebration. The earliest recipe, dating from 1665, for a baked wedding confectionery recorded from Britain is for a wedding pie (Charsley 1992, 47-8). In the early 1800s, the bride’s pie was still a principal dish at a wedding dinner (Charsley 1992, 45-7). A ring was baked in the pie, and the lady who got the ring would be thought to be the next bride (Charsley 1992, 48-9).
It is probable that the New Orleans tradition evolved from both the custom of favours on the wedding cake and the custom of baking a ring and sixpence in the cake-customs probably brought by nineteenth- century Scottish and Irish immigrants to New Orleans, as well as school teachers who came from England and Scotland.  McKenzie’s Bakery, established in 1924 by a Scottish immigrant (Henry C. “Mack” McKenzie) that, by 2001, with its forty-nine pastry shops, had developed into the largest bakery chain in
the area, is also likely to have been a significant influence on the practice of ribbon pulls in wedding cakes in the New Orleans area.
Ribbon pulling is not something that is done only once in one’s lifetime. Most young women in the New Orleans area, unless they marry very young, are likely to have pulled many ribbons from wedding cakes. Denese Lea, now in her forties, who grew up in New Orleans, said, “The highlight for me at the reception was the ‘ribbon pull/ I wanted what was on the end of that ribbon.”