The Charmed History of Wedding Cake Pulls: A Treasured New Orleans Tradition


New Orleans is a city full of sweet surprises — especially regarding a traditional Southern wedding. The most charming New Orleans wedding tradition, the cake pull, is baked right into the cake.

Louisiana is no stranger to confections with good luck charms inside. The Mardi Gras King Cake, famous for its cultural lore, has a tiny plastic baby hidden inside its cinnamon-swirled dough. Southern wedding cakes embody the same element of surprise with cake pulls — charms tied on ribbons hidden throughout the bottom layer of the wedding cake.

What are Wedding Cake Pulls?

A traditional wedding cake pull is a small sterling silver charm attached to a dainty ribbon, string, or chain. Brides choose one charm for each bridesmaid, and the baker places them under the bottom layer before icing the cake. Each member of the bridal party, and sometimes single guests, pulls a charm before cutting the cake. Whichever charm the guest draws determines their fortune and good luck.

It is customary for the bride to present necklaces or bracelets for the charms, helping the bridal party preserve the charms and beautiful memories for years to come.

A Short History of Wedding Cake Pulls

Initially called “Ribbon Pulls,” wedding cake pulls date back to the Victorian Era. Today’s practice resembles the English weddings that cake pulls originated from, thanks to Henry C. “Mack” McKenzie. The baker started offering cake pulls to brides who ordered their wedding cakes from his bakery, and it quickly became a New Orleans tradition. Now, brides cherish the uniquely Southern tradition that creates intimate moments with friends and family before cutting the wedding cake.

How Bakers Place Cake Pulls in a Wedding Cake

When the tradition began, chefs baked the charms right into the cake. Over the years, southern bakeries have perfected the process. Bakers carefully place the charms between the cooked cake layers, ribbons dangling out, before piping the icing and adding embellishments. This new technique is more food-safe and beautifully hides any imperfections the charms may cause.

The Charming Wedding Cake Pull Ceremony

Southern bridal parties eagerly await the cake pull ceremony at every traditional New Orleans wedding. Giddy with excitement, the girls surround the wedding cake and take hold of their chosen cake pull string. Everyone pulls on the count of three, revealing the special charm. Sometimes, each bridesmaid will read the matching fortune aloud. Once the cake pull ceremony ends, it’s time to cut the cake.

The Top 30 Wedding Cake Pull Charms and What They Mean

The cake pull charms a bride chooses signify the overall theme of the wedding and her outlook on life. Most southern brides select a collection of traditional or New Orleans-themed charms for their bridesmaids. Some brides like to compile vintage or antique charms throughout their engagement to create a personalized collection.

Many local New Orleans jewelry stores carry wedding cake pull charms in-store and online, including Mimosa, Valois Designs, and Mignon Faget. No matter where a bride shops, her choice of cake pulls will add sweet superstition and joy to her wedding day.

Traditional Wedding Cake Pull Charms and Their Meanings

Traditional cake pull charms and their meanings date back to the 1600s and are often older than the Crescent City itself. The top 18 traditional wedding cake pull charms include:

● Anchor: stability
● Boot, airplane, or boat: travel
● Button or thimble: old maid
● Captain’s wheel: confidence
● Flower: a new relationship
● Guardian angel: guidance
● Heart: true love
● Horseshoe or four-leaf clover: good luck
● Key, moon, or bird: opportunity
● Lion or dog: loyalty
● Money bag or tree: wealth
● Rattle, or stork: a baby
● Rocking chair or mirror: long life
● Seashell or butterfly: eternal beauty
● Telephone: good news
● Tiger: courageousness
● Wedding ring or bells: marriage
● Wishbone or wishing well: wish granted

Southern-Themed Wedding Cake Pull Charms and Their Meanings

It is common for southern brides to add New Orleans or Louisiana-themed charms into the mix to create new traditions. The top 12 southern-themed wedding cake pull charms include:

● Alligator: primal energy
● Chili pepper or crawfish: spicy love
● Cicada: new opportunities
● Lamp post: bright future
● Mardi Gras mask: surprise
● New Orleans Water meter: strength
● Oyster or fleur de lis: prosperity
● Pecan: abundance
● Pelican: resilience
● Red bean: good luck
● Strawberry: joy
● Streetcar or steamboat: good news

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