The Greek culture is steeped in rich historical traditions and events. The Orthodox faith has strict regulations and rules detailing how traditions should be celebrated, although now of course many historical rules have been bent (and some completely broken) to accommodate the needs and wants of modern society.
For most of the world, weddings are generally considered a big deal. For Greek people weddings are HUGE. Greek people value tradition and marriage is considered an incredibly sacred institution in which to bring up your family. Yet, many Greek weddings now forego some of the old rituals and customs (such as arriving to the church by donkey!) so it’s difficult to tell what is an original tradition and what has been somewhat altered.
So I thought that I would attempt to present all the Greek wedding traditions in this post to help anyone who might be confused by different Greek weddings they’ve been to or are about to have their own Big Fat Greek Wedding and need some direction. Not that I’m an expert! So if there is anything anyone thinks I’ve left out please do comment 🙂
If the couple haven’t found love through proxeni – basically an arranged marriage in a sort of ‘My son will be good for your daughter’ sort of way – then at some point both will have had to make the grand introduction of the other to the family. Taking your partner to a Greek wedding or a christening etc, is basically stating that you are going to marry them. If not then god help you! Like in the old days, it’s always a good idea for the guy to ask his prospective father-in-law for his daughter’s hand in marriage. (The father-in-law’s daughter, not the guy’s daughter – ah you know what I mean). It shows respect for the older generation. Although if they say ‘no’ then things could get awkward…
A Greek engagement differs to an English one although many couples now, particularly those who live in the UK, don’t follow the old custom. Originally, both parties would receive a plain gold band to wear on their left ring finger at a brief ceremony in the presence of their families. A priest would bless the rings to signal the engagement and a party would ensue (any excuse). The rings are blessed again at the wedding ceremony and switched to the right hand. Again, many couples wear the rings on the left hand if they live outside of Greece.
SAVE THE DATE
There are several days within the Greek calendar that are considered an absolute NO NO to hold your wedding on. A priest wouldn’t even entertain the idea on days including the first two weeks of August, the entire period of Lent leading up to Easter, the forty days preceding Christmas and a few other days when religious festivals are held.
Some people may find this a little weird and it didn’t happen at my wedding (!) but a big traditional wedding custom is ‘The Making of the Bed’. Before the wedding, the bride and all her gals (usually single women) will make up the marital bed with new sheets, mattress etc. The groom then comes to inspect the bed (along with the rest of the village!) and if he gives his approval then money, rice and finally a baby are thrown on the bed. Well obviously the baby isn’t literally ‘thrown’ it is ‘gently rolled’. These three things symbolise prosperity, setting down roots, and fertility.
THE KOUMBARO / KOUMBARA
Basically the Koumbaro/bara are like the best man and best woman (or maid of honour). They play an important part in the actual ceremony as well as the preparations leading up to the wedding, and technically they are later meant to be godparents to the couple’s first born.
There is much music and merriment when both parties are getting ready on the wedding day. A violinist may play to the groom as he is dressed by friends and family (the groom, not the violinist! One hopes he is already dressed!). The groom will also be shaved by his koumbaro to symbolise the close bond of trust between them.
At the bride’s house, her friends and family will also help dress her. On the bottom of her shoes the bride will write the names of her unmarried friends and by the end of the night, those names that have been scuffed off (!) are said to be married soon.
The ceremony itself includes many customs, some of which differ depending on whereabouts the couple are from, for example different villages follow different traditions. At my wedding my husband met me outside the church – I walked from the car to the church entrance with my father and brother, and once all the guests were inside, my Greek man and I walked down the aisle together. I’ve found conflicting facts about this as some websites say that nowadays some Greek weddings have adopted the western approach where the father walks his daughter down the aisle inside the church. So it’s whatever you fancy!
An important part of the ceremony is the ‘crowning’ of the couple whereby two ‘crowns’ (stefana) tied together with a ribbon are swapped over the heads of the bride and groom three times. Another part is the drinking of the wine where the couple take three sips from one single wine glass which symbolises life. Other practices include the swapping of the rings three times by the koumbaro and the marital walk, whereby the priest leads the couple three times around the altar (see main picture!).
Some of my English friends were shocked by the fact that my Greek man and I did not exchange vows at our wedding – many Greek couples now do, but originally, the union was seen to be cemented by the priest’s blessings and the acts of the ceremony itself rather than the couple’s words. I very much doubt my husband would have been able to say much on the day anyway!
After the wedding it’s time to smash some plates! Actually, plates are rarely smashed now (no-one wants to clean that mess up) and instead the usual dancing, eating, drinking and general merriment ensues. Some couples chose to do the money dance where guests pin money to the couple’s clothes. Money might also be presented in envelopes.
Each guest usually leaves with a bomboniere/favour – a gift that includes five or seven sugared almonds/koufeta. The most common number is five symbolising health, joy, fertility, prosperity and longevity.
So there you have it! If you are looking for further information about Greek Weddings or are looking to plan your own, please do check out The Greek Wives Club wedding page or if you are a wedding planner why not list your business in the free directory.
Happy Wedding Season everyone!