Posts tagged 'Irish wedding'
The Centerpiece of Any Wedding Festivities Is the Cake, Naturally.
It’s worth noting though that the modern American wedding cake is a far cry from the traditional Irish and Scottish wedding cakes of the past. However, the traditional form does live on and you can make it a part of your own special Celtic wedding. The most traditional celtic wedding cake is...wait for it….fruit cake. Yup. Fruit cake. Or at least a very nicely refined two- to three-tier version of it. We aren't talking about the candied fruit and citron disasters that appear in grocery stores around the holidays. No, this is a truly rich, aromatic and flavorful confection containing nutmeg, ginger, currants, candied cherries, almonds, citrus peel, molasses and more.
Fruit cakes have a long history as celebratory food in the British Isles. And enjoying one at a wedding was common throughout celtic and even non- celtic parts of the UK from the 18th century well up into the modern day. As usual, the Victorians were the ones who really took the concept over the top, but more on that in a moment.
A Symbol of Long Life and Happiness - and a Long-term Culinary Investment
The wedding cake would actually often be baked just after the couple’s engagement. Such cakes were costly and difficult to make since the fruit and spices used were only available in limited supply and seasonally. But the making of this magical treat was a great way to kick off the long-term preparations for the wedding as well as the intended marriage. This is why properly made fruit cakes are soaked lovingly in rum, brandy or some other liquor -- it adds flavor and moistness and also preserves the cake. On personal note, I can tell you it works. I have enjoyed traditional fruit cake made by my wife some three or four years after she made it and it was still delicious, though a bit on the crumbly side. (goes well with Earl Grey or a smoked tea, BTW)
You may be familiar with the idea of saving some cake for your first anniversary or the christening of your first-born child. Well, nowadays we can do so with any cake thanks to freezing. However back in the day, only a well-made, and alcohol-preserved fruit cake would survive such a long period of time. This was part of the lore of such cakes. Their ability to last for months and years was symbolic of a long and sweet marriage and family.
Preparation and Serving
Fruit wedding cakes will usually have a buttercream frosting (almond is a classic flavor), though fondant is used now for visual effect just like on other wedding cakes. It’s best to leave off the frosting on any portion of the cake you wish to preserve. Since fruitcake needs to cure in its brandy for at least several weeks before being served, plan accordingly with your baker. (See the recipe below!)
If you are not sure if your guests will be ready for an Irish fruit cake wedding cake, one option is to have just the top tier of the cake be a fruit cake. A bite of this can be shared by the bride and groom only, to bring good luck and honor the tradition. Or save the entire tier for the first anniversary or christening. Another option is to make a fruit cake as a Groom’s Cake.
Cutting the Cake and Other Fun
It is highly traditional and romantic to cut the cake using the groom’s dirk or Sgian Dubh. If you are Irish, you may also have fun with cake smashing -- it is traditional for the groom’s mother to break a piece of the wedding cake over the bride's head after the ceremony. This trick ensures that she and the bride will get along well for life.
The Victorian Wedding Cake “Pull”
Now, remember those crazy Victorians I mentioned? Here is their addition to the Celtic wedding cake culture. This wedding tradition is a really fun way to give tokens of the occasion to your wedding party. Small jewelry charms were tied to satin or silk ribbons and hidden under the bottom layer of the wedding cake. The cake was then assembled and arranged so that the ribbons would hang down around the perimeter, often off the edge of the table. At some point prior to cutting the cake, the bridesmaids would be invited to each pull out a charm. Some of the traditional designs used were...
4-Leaf Clover ~ Good luck
Horseshoe ~ Prosperity & luck
Heart Lock ~ Faithful love
Key ~ The key to the heart
Wishbone ~ Wishes will come true
Magic Lamp ~ Dreams will come true
Dollar Tree ~ Financial security
Heart ~ Sincere love
Rocking Chair ~ Longevity
Wedding Bells ~ A joyous declaration
Anchor ~ Stability in life
Cross ~ Peace and tranquility
Chimney Sweep or Ladder and Brush ~ Good luck
Thistle ~ Scottish heritage
Celtic Knot ~ Celtic heritage and love’s enduring promise
The Saltire ~ Scottish heritage
Claddagh ~ Irish heritage, friendship, love, & loyalty
Celtic Cross ~ Protection for the home
These charms were usually Sterling silver, but you could use all manner of items for a modern rendition. Cake Pull Charms are also available for sale online.
Bake Your Own Irish / Scottish Wedding Fruit Cake!
Doing a rustic or home wedding? Or don’t trust a commercial baker to get the cake right? Here’s a basic recipe you can use to make your very own Celtic wedding cake.
Cooking Time: 4 1/2-5 1/2 hours
Currants 1 lb. 12 oz./800g.
Sultanas (Golden Raisins) 1lb./450g.
Raisins 9 oz./25 oz 250 g.
Sliced Almonds 7 oz./200g.
Glace Cherries 70z/200g.
Citrus Peel, cut, mixed 70z/200g.
Flour 1lb 3oz. 525 g.
Salt 1 teaspoon
Mixed Spices or Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend 2 1/2 tsp.
Dark Brown Sugar 1lb. 450g.
Black Strap Molasses 2 tbsp.
Orange and Lemon zest 1 1/2 tsp. each
Eggs 8 large
Vanilla 1 1/2 tsp.
Brandy 4 tbsp.
1. Grease a cake tin and line with three layers of parchment paper. Edges of paper should extend about 2" above the rim of the tin.
2. Tie a thick band of folded newspaper around the outside of the tin to protect cake edges from over-baking.
3. Sort your fruit, remove any stalks or irregular pieces.
4. Mix fruit with halved cherries, peel and a tablespoon or two of flour.
5. Sift flour, salt and spices.
6. Cream butter and sugar.
7. To the butter, add molasses, zests, and essences. Beat well.
8. Add the eggs, one by one with a tablespoon full of flour with each. Beat well. Fold in the fruit and remaining flour plus the brandy. Mix well.
9. Pour mixture into the prepared tin and smooth down with tablespoon making a slight hollow in the center.
10. You may leave the cake over night or till ready to bake.
11. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F., 150 degrees C. Bake cake in center of the oven for 1-1/2 hours.
12. Reduce heat to 275 degrees F, 140 degrees C, for the remaining baking time or until the top of cake feels firm to the touch and toothpick comes out clean and dry.
13. Watch cake as it bakes. If it looks like it might over-brown, cover with parchment paper.
14. Cool cooked cake in tin then remove paper and turn upside down onto a board. Make small holes into the cake with toothpicks or a fork and pour on some extra brandy.
15. When the brandy is absorbed, wrap the cake in double layer of grease-proof paper or cheese cloth (you can lightly soak the cheese cloth with brandy as well), then a layer of foil. Seal and store in airtight container and place in a cool place for at least a month. You should finish the cake about two weeks before the wedding.
16. Cover with butter cream icing, Irish Royal Icing or Fondant.
Nothing else more clearly says "Celtic wedding" than having a genuine bagpiper included in your ceremony. Did you know Bagpipers are actually considered good luck? It’s an old custom to have the piper be the first one to greet the bride, thus ensuring a long and happy marriage. But of course the whole point of hiring a piper is the traditional music. It's a timeless gift to be enjoyed by everyone attending your wedding -- a sure way to make it memorable.
How do you hire a bagpiper for your wedding?
Many professional pipers have websites. Or you can find them by searching facebook profiles. Your wedding planner may have contacts for pipers in your area. Another option is to look up local bagpipe bands -- most pipers who do weddings also play with a pipe band. Once you have a name, check for reviews.
Listen to samples of your prospective piper's music.
Most pipers who perform weddings professionally are typically highly trained musicians. Be cautious if a friend suggests someone willing to play for free. Hobbyists may mean well and come cheaply, but the music may not be all that great. Be sure to listen to samples of them playing. Most pipers these days will happily share clips on Youtube.
How will the bagpiper look?
Naturally, he will be kilted. Most professional bagpipers will have a basic Argyll jacket and vest as part of their kit. Some may also be able to dress in different styles to suit your wedding's theme. For example, a tweed set for a more rustic theme, or a highland shirt for a romantic, historical or rennaisance theme. Ask them what they can or are willing to do. But always remember the playing is far more important than the uniform.
When should the bagpiper play during the wedding ceremony?
The clear answer is "whenever you want them to play". But typically a piper will be hired to do one or more of the following:
> As guests arrive.
> Process the bride in.
> To accentuate moments during the ceremony - for example as background while the handfasting cord is tied, or a unity candle lit.
> Process the new couple out.
> As guests leave.
> Introduce the couple at the reception, usually by leading the Grand March.
> Performing the Quaich Ceremony (non-musical)
What traditional Scottish wedding music can you choose from?
If you are not sure what songs you'd like your piper to play, ask them for suggestions. Their repetoire will include many jigs, reels and marches and they will have personal favorites they are especially good at playing. They will also know these popular tunes, which are wedding classics:
Glendaruel Highlanders – a happy, energetic tune ideal for welcoming the groom and bride as they approach the wedding venue.
Bluebells of Scotland -- a beautiful and heart-stirring tune which adds romance to the ceremony.
Highland Wedding – another joyous song often used for the recessional or as a more Celtic alternative to the Bridal March.
Scotland the Brave or Mairi’s Wedding – both great choices for the Grand March - the ceremonial entrance of the wedding party and guests into the reception hall.
Flower of Scotland -- a beloved national song, almost an unofficial national anthem. You can enjoy this almost any time during the ceremony or reception.
A few other traditional favorites for the wedding or reception:
The Green Hills of Tyrol
Wearing of the Green
The Minstrel Boy
Merrily Kissed the Quaker's Wife
How much should I spend on a bagpiper?
Most pipers offer an hourly rate. The current average is between $150.00 and $200.00. One hour's worth is an unofficial minimum and includes at least one song performance, as well as the piper's travel time and costs. If all you need is for them to process you in, you will probably pay for an hour. One hour could also include some background music as the guests arrive at the venue. If you want the piper present throughout the ceremony and at the reception, you will of course pay more.
What will the bagpiper require?
Clear communication is a must. details such as where/when to play, who to escort, etc should all be ironed out well in advance -- part of contracting the piper in the first place. Pipers do not usually attend rehearsals. If you really want them to, expect to pay them for their time. For the big day, make sure your piper knows exactly when to be on site. You should provide them with clear directions to the venue (including any necessary details like what door to use, which hall the recption is in, etc.) and a good parking spot. If at all possible arrange for a quiet, isolated spot where they can tune up. Shade is ideal if the wedding is outdoors. A bottle of water is always appreciated. Most pipers will not expect to be fed or treated as a guest in the reception.
NOTE: It is NOT recommended to have the bagpiper's performance be a surprise. While it may seem like a romantic idea, it makes it very difficult to coordinate the performance. A piper who is asked to hide is being asked to tune quietly or not at all -- not good. They will end up rushing to appear at the appointed moment and the song may come off badly. Or worse, someone who does not know about the sceret plan may get in the way.
Finally, if your piper makes suggestions about the ceremony or performance -- take them seriously. He or she is a professional and has probably seen many successful (as well as unsuccessful) weddings. Their goal is the same as yours -- to make the day run as smoothly as possible and be joyous.
We can't resist ending on a humorous (and sour) note, so here's the final piece of advice...
As a matter of fact, there are many ideas to choose from. Most of these quaint and touching customs were intended to bless the new couple with good fortune, expressing the fond wishes of their loved ones.
To a Long Life
The Best Man, or another friend, should give the couple a clock to represent longevity. This harkens back to when clocks were new and very expensive -- a significant contribution to the newlyweds' new household. You may see timepieces marketed as "wedding clocks" today because of this old custom. Mondernly, a pocketwatch is sometimes given as a more personal gift to the groom. Another symbol of longevity is the infinite (or infinity) knot used as a design on many celtic wedding bands.
Before the big day, the bride should receive a Luckenbooth pin. These brooches, shaped like a heart topped by a crown, were originally symbols of betrothal (a Scottish equivalent of the Irish Claddagh). The curious name comes from the "locked booths" of the jewlers along the Royal Mile in Edinburg from whom the would-be groom would buy the item. Like an engagement ring, it represented an investment and serious commitment. The Luckenbooth may be pinned to the bride during the ceremony. Later, it may also be pinned to the shawl of the couple's baby at its christening.
In old times, a bride would give her groom a shirt, the "wedding sark". This probably harkens back to medieval times when the women of the household made all the clothing for the family. The sark represented her love and commitment and also advertised her domestic skills. (Similarly, this is why you wear new clothes in Easter Sunday -- they indicated that the household was content and that the womenfolk had been secure and productive during the long winter months) In return, the groom would buy the wedding dress. Nowadays, mutual gifts of clothing can be a fun as well as well as meaningful gesture. It could be items to wear during the ceremony, or "for fun" things to change into for the reception or the first day of the honeymoon.
Another token of good fortune and happiness is the inclusion of white heather in the bouquet, boutonnieres and other flower arrangements - it's just an all around great decoration. In Scotland, heather is said to be stained with the blood of clan wars. White is therefore the luckiest for it has grown where no blood has been shed. Scottish warriors often wore a sprig of white heather for protection. Queen Victoria popularized the wearing of white heather by brides. If you prefer the purple variety, don't fret -- all heather is symbolic of strength, resilience and domestic well-being. A genuine, hand-braided heather broom is a classic home blessing gift.
Sharing the Tartan
Tartan is always on proud display at a Celtic wedding: the groom's kilt, binding the bouquet, sashes or rosettes for the bridesmaids, table and altar cloths...it can be everywhere! We already mentioned using a bit of tartan cloth for a Handfasting, but there is more one may do. Often, the groom's ensemble will include a Fly Plaid (the cape-like tartan thrown over the shoulder and secured with a large brooch). During the ceremony, especially during vows or the homily, the groom may drape his fly plaid over the bride's shoulder. Alternately, he may present her with a sash or shawl in his family tartan so that as they leave the altar together, they match. Another variation is for the bride to pin the fly plaid on the groom (especially if it is her family's tartan). Other family members or an officiant may also present tartan to the bride and/or groom. There really is no wrong way to use this beautiful and symbolic cloth.
At the conclusion of the wedding you may want to host a Scramble. It's quite simple; the groom, or sometimes the bride’s father or Best Man, takes coins from his sporran and tosses them about for the childen at the gathering to "scramble" for. This gesture demonstrates generosity, which was heavily linked to good fortune in ancient times. It can be a fun alternative to throwing rice or bird seed at the couple, or done in conjunction.
Stepping out...or in
In a traditional Scottih wedding, the couple are not so much introduced at the reception as paraded in. And everyone takes part. This is known as the "Scottish Grand March" and it really counts as the first dance of the evening. The bagpiper will play a foursome reel (sometimes leading the procession as well).The newly-weds enter the hall first, hand in hand. They are followed by the wedding party, then the parents, and finally the guests. The reel can continue as long as people like. It often wraps up with the guests forming a circle around the room. As the music continues, the bride leads her father or grandfather to the center of the floor for their Father-Daughter Dance. Guests can clap along, or you can transition to more modern music. This ritual really builds excitement and energy and allows everyone to be involved.
The Quaich (pronounced "quake") is the traditional Scottish "cup of welcome."
A small metal, horn or wooden drinking bowl designed for holding whisky, it dates back to at least the 16th century and may have originated in Scandinavia -- a distant descendant of the ritual drinking horn. Quaichs bear two handles or "lugs". One is held by the person offering the cup, the other by the person receiving the drink, which represents hospitality and friendship. It was common to offer a guest a dram of whisky in the quaich when they entered your home, and another upon parting (this should remind you of the line from the song..."And we’ll tak' a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne."
No true Gaelic home is complete without one. Historically, the first time the artesenal "loving cup" was given as a wedding token was in 1589 when King James VI of Scotland gave one to Anne of Denmark. It has become a ritual element of celtic weddings ever since, as well as a classic wedding present.
During a wedding ceremony, the bride and groom may fill the quaich together. Whisky tasting glasses are very handy for this as well as elegant. They then offer each other the whisky (or another beverage). This can be worked in at several points in the proceedings. Usually it is done before or after the vows but always before the handfasting (for obvious reasons!). The cup can also be shared with family members to symbolize the union of the two families. It's a bit like lighting a unity candle, but much more authentic for a Scottish or Irish wedding.
During the reception, the Best Man (or the honored friend you have chosen) should use the quaich during their speech. They may be all set with a personalized toast full of stories about the two of you. However, in addition to whatever they would like to say (or if they are nervous about public speaking!), they may enjoy offering up this traditional, light-hearted wedding blessing written by Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns:
May the best you've ever seen
Be the worst you'll you ever see.
May the mouse ne'er leave your pantry
With a teardrop in its e'
May you lum keep blithly reekin'
Til you old enough to dee.
May you always be just as happy
As I wish you now to be.
It is also a great piece for an officiant or piper to deliver.
Another person who traditionally offers a toast to the couple at the reception is the bagpiper. After processing the newly wedded couple into the hall, the piper should be offered payment for his services -- hence the expression "paying the piper". This payment would of course be monetary (though realistically you will actually be paying the piper with a check at another time). However just as importantly, payment included a drink from the quaich. As he is presented with the dram, the piper traditionally toasts the good health of the couple. This is a more rare custom nowadays, but it is about as Scottish as it gets and worth considering, especially if your piper has outdone himself.
The quaich may also be passed around the room allowing each guest to raise a toast. This is another ancient tradition which is also sometimes enjoyed during Ceilidhs (Celtic dance parties) -- with each person holding the quaich having a chance to toast, sing or tell a short story before quaffing their whisky, But be warned, Celtic toasting can sometimes be more like Celtic roasting, especially as more and more guests offer anecdotes about the bride or groom!
After the big day, your wedding quaich can have a proud place in your home. Quaichs are often displayed on the mantle, with wedding photos, or a piece of the family tartan. And naturally you will want to bring it out for any special occasions such as holiday dinners to share with loved ones and rekindle fond memories.
"Tying the knot" is more than a slang expression, it's a form of celtic wedding vows.
"Handfasting", in which a couple literally have their hands tied together with a cord, was just one of many ancient Celtic marriage forms permitted under the Irish "Brehon" Law. The man and woman who came together for the hand-fasting agreed to stay together for a specific period of time. Usually it was "a year and a day." At the end of the year, the couple could enter into a "permanent" marriage contract, renew their agreement for another year, or go their separate ways.
The handfasting custom, which started in pagan times, continued throughout the post-Christianization period and spread throughout Celtic lands, not merely Ireland. It was practical. In a rural village with no resident priest, you could do a handfasting with just a single witness. Later on, a priest could "finish up" the wedding with a Christian ceremony. Handfasting cords were also far more affordable than wedding rings!
Nowadays, the practice is often included as part of a larger wedding ceremony, usually as the couple speak their vows. For this, you will want to have on hand a piece of braided cord (perhaps in wedding colors) or ribbon. Best of all is to have a strip of the family tartan (remnants from the making of a kilt are great). If both families have tartans, you may want to braid the two together to enhance the symbolism. Flower garlands, ivy, and fancy decorative ribbon, even remnants from vintage wedding gowns can also be used to create handfasting chords which can become heirloom items.
Here's a sample version of the handfasting ceremony you can share with your officiant:
"Groom" and "Bride" wish to close this ceremony with the traditional Celtic handfasting. This symbolic binding of hands is the source of terms like "Bonds of Holy Matrimony" and to "tie the knot." Throughout the history of our ancestors, and in many parts of the world, this act has symbolized the commitment of two people, one to the other. While the cords themselves are impermanent, much the way life on earth is, the bond they represent, the true bond of love, is undying.
"Bride", "Groom", please join your right hands.
As you hold hands, the cord is wrapped around your wrists in a figure eight -- a symbol of eternity. You can also hold hands and touch your elbows together and have the officiant wrap the cord around your forearms. Either way, it should be lose enough for you to hold hands comfortably, perhaps while kissing, and also for when you recess from the ceremony.
"Groom" and "Bride", this cord symbolizes your two lives. Once separate, they are now bound together as one. Where you have lived separately in thought, word and action, now you move into the future together. May you find joy, satisfaction and growth in all things. May your life together be a blessing for you, and for all those lives you will touch.
You can now have the officiant introduce you as a married couple and close the ceremony. However, the handfasting can be done at almost any point in a wedding celebration. It is a nice way to join together while reciting your vows. Get creative and make it your own special moment!
More on Celtic Wedding Traditions coming up!