Guide to Wedding Traditions in Pittsburgh

Midsection Of Bride Putting Ring In Groom Finger At Ceremony

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Pittsburgh, located on the western border of Pennsylvania, has become a popular destination for weddings, especially in the fall when the changing leaves provide a beautiful backdrop for the industrial architecture of the city. Those hoping to tie the knot here will also find over 400 bridges and three major rivers, which offer plenty of great spots to snap some wedding party photos.

Every city has its own customs and traditions, but when it comes to weddings, Pittsburgh really takes the cake with its unique blend of cultural celebrations, dishes, and dances. From dozens of cookies made by family members of the wedding party to the bridal dollar dance, you're sure to experience some of these customs during a Pittsburgh wedding.

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The Cookie Table

A few dozen pizzelle cookies.
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Chief among Pittsburgh wedding traditions is the cookie table. In this sweet tradition, family members bake dozens of cookies in advance of the wedding, freeze them, then carefully arrange them on long tables at the reception. All of this comes in addition to the traditional wedding cake.

Some couples choose to unveil the cookie table after dinner is served while 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.

The origin of this classic tradition is uncertain. Some postulate that it spurs from European immigrants who brought the custom of baking cookies to the Pittsburgh region. Another concept credits the tradition to the Great Depression when families often made cookies to help out couples with their wedding expenses.

Some hallmarks of the classic cookie table are ladylocks, pizzelles, cherry cheesecake cups, peanut butter blossoms, shortbread, fudge, and snickerdoodles. If you're attending a wedding in Pittsburgh, be sure to ask the wedding party if you need to bring your own cookies for the event.

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The Groom's Cake

Layered chocolate cake with chocolate icing.
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At the rehearsal dinner on the night before the wedding, the bride customarily presents the groom with a special cake, which is often very different from the traditional white-frosted wedding cake. Instead, it’s generally a richer cake, such as chocolate, red velvet, or cheesecake, and is often decorated especially for the groom-to-be.

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.
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Also known as the "Money Dance," the Dollar Dance is a special routine that the whole bridal party helps orchestrate to send off the bride and groom. Usually held at the end of the night, this special dance involves a number of steps.

First, the DJ or emcee announces that it's time for the bridal dollar dance, and the bridesmaids and groomsmen then line up on the dancefloor with trays of shots. Then, the maid of honor holds out a silk bag or wears an apron with pockets to collect cash, and 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, but 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. In these instances, the family dances in a circle surrounding the bride, then the groom tries to push through the circle to sweep the bride off to their honeymoon.

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Other Pittsburgh Wedding Dances

The Dollar Dance isn't the only strange dance that has become a tradition at Pittsburgh weddings. Along with the Polka, the city has also become known for the Chicken Dance, which originated here in the 1970s.

Part Polka and part "hokey pokey," the Chicken Dance involves flapping your "wings" and clapping your hand in a guided dance routine. Easy to learn and requiring no dancing skill to perform, the Chicken Dance has become popular for weddings guests of all ages and is still usually played at weddings in Pittsburgh today.

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Popular Spots for Wedding Photos

Roberto Clemente Bridge
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When it comes to taking pictures of the wedding party before the big event, Pittsburgh offers a wide array of beautiful scenery, historical architecture, and breathtaking vistas where you can snap some photos.

The most popular of places for any type of photo backdrop include The Clemente Bridge, the Duquesne Incline, Frick Park, Mellon Square Park, Observatory Hill in Riverview Park, and the West End Overlook.

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