Pittsburgh Wedding Traditions Stand the Test of Time

At a Pittsburgh wedding, there are a few traditions to expect. For Pittsburghers, these are so ingrained in the culture that they’re conventional at the nuptials. But for the out-of-towners, these traditions might be new and confusing, so here’s a primer that’ll help you blend in with the locals:

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    The Cookie Table

    A few dozen pizzelle cookies.
    Photography by Paula Thomas / Moment / Getty Images

    Chief among Pittsburgh wedding traditions is the cookie table. In this sweet tradition, family members bake dozens and dozens -- and dozens -- of cookies in advance of the wedding, freeze them, then carefully arrange them on long tables at the reception. And yes, that’s all in addition to the traditional wedding cake.

    Some couples choose to unveil the cookie table after dinner is served. Other couples encourage guests to graze on the cookies from happy hour through the end of the evening. Cookie tables are often stocked with to-go containers so guests can take a few confections home for a late-night snack or for breakfast.

    The origin of this classic is not certain. Some postulate that the tradition spurs from European immigrants who brought the custom of baking cookies to the Pittsburgh region. Another concept credits the tradition to Great Depression roots, when families made cookies to help out the couple with their wedding expenses.

    Some hallmarks of the classic cookie table are: Ladylocks, pizzelles, cherry cheesecake cups, peanut butter blossoms, shortbread, fudge and snickerdoodles.


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    The Groom’s Cake

    Layered chocolate cake with chocolate icing.
    Annabelle Breakey / DigitalVision / Getty Images

    Speaking of confections, the tradition of a groom’s cake at the rehearsal dinner is quite common.

    At the the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, the bride customarily presents the groom with a special cake. It’s very different than the traditional white-frosted wedding cake. Instead, it’s generally a richer cake, such as chocolate, red velvet or cheesecake.

    The groom’s cake is often iced with an image portraying his favorite hobbies, such as golf, sports, cars or games.

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    The Dollar Dance

    A group of people dancing at a wedding.
    Marie Killen / Moment Open / Getty Images

    The “dollar dance”  is also called the “money dance.” Here’s how it works: At some point during the reception (often near the end of the night), the DJ/emcee announces that it’s time for this dance. The bridesmaids and groomsmen line up on the dancefloor with trays of shots (usually peach schnapps and/or whiskey) and occasionally with cigars. The maid of honor holds out a silk bag or wears an apron with pockets to collect cash. Wedding guests line up with wads of cash (sometimes dollar bills, other times $20 or more) to hand over for a chance to dance with the bride or groom for a few moments.

    The dance is almost always a fast song. In Polish families, a polka is a popular choice. Some families even choose the Pittsburgh Polka, a Steelers fight song, for this tradition and pass out Terrible Towels for guests to wave.

    Depending on the family, some use the dollar dance as the last song of the night. The family dances in a circle surrounding the bride, then the groom tries to push through the circle to sweep the bride off her feet and off to the honeymoon.