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THE GREEK WEDDING TRADITIONS


Part 2/2


 

What Happens During the Wedding Ceremony

There are some common rituals in almost every wedding I've been called to immortalise. For example:

The stefana, which may have flower embroideries, are linked with a ribbon that symbolises the union of two people into a married couple and are placed on a table in front of the bridegroom, along with the Bible, the wine and the rings.

The koumparos or koumpara exchanges the rings three times and swaps the stefana three times, before he places them on the couple's heads. This is a physical demonstration of their spiritual bonding (the couple and koumparos).

When the priest reads the primary of the wedding blessings, he joins their right hands. Then he does the stefana blessing, he reads the Gospel of Wedding in Cana (Jesus' first miracle), he pours wine into a single cup or glass and gives the couple to take three sips each from it. The bridegroom drinking from a single glass symbolises the shared life and experiences they commit to living together. 

 
A Greek wedding traditional ceremony
 

Then, comes the “Isaias dance”. It's the part of the wedding rite where the priest leads the couple to their first walk together around the table. Priest also asks the koumparos or koumpara to follow the couple while holding the ribbon of the stefana. At this time of the "Isaias dance" some hit the groom on his back, although many priests don't like to be interrupted during this moment.

When the priest removes the stefana from the couple's heads, he says “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder (separate).” This means that no one should try to split apart those two people.

In many parts of Greece, the couple exits the church after they give their koumparos or koumpara a gift.

Once the couple exits the church, the guests await with a handful of rice and rose petals that they throw to the married couple. Given that rice is linked to fertility (like all other seeds), the couple is wished for wealth! Also, rice (called “gamopilafo”, meaning wedding rice) is often the first meal been offered at the wedding dinner. This is particularly common in weddings taking place in villages and islands.

After the wedding ceremony, guests congratulate the happy couple and are then given a bomboniera usually along with a small wedding favour.

In many areas of Greece guests are still pin money on the couple after the ceremony when they wish them "na zisete!".

 
Snapshots of the orthodox service
 

Stepping Foot!

There is a line in the wedding missal that calls the husband to love his wife as himself and the wife to respect her husband. In weddings in Greek, the phrase "Η δε γυνή να φοβείται τον άντρα" has the word "φοβείται" that translates to “fear” so it's humourously perceived as “the woman shall fear her husband”. In Greece when the cantor reads that phrase, everybody present has their eyes on the bride's feet because it's often customary for her to step her right foot over the groom's left one (just slightly) to show that she's not afraid of him! Stepping on the groom’s foot was once a widespread prank-like thing many brides would do to show the world that they did not fear their husbands. The key word here is “show”.

Who hasn’t seen at least once in their lifetime the classic Greek movie “Η δε γυνή να φοβείται τον άντρα” starring M.Kontou and G.Konstantinou, where the bride Eleni steps on Antonakis foot during the much-awaited wedding ceremony! Can you recall the mess this caused? The offended groom’s look at that precise moment was worth a million pounds! He could just not wait to get into the cab to rush back home and pack his bags because of the shameful thing his new spouse did in front of all these people!

Others claim that these foot-stepping endeavours are a demonstration of the bride’s superiority – that she will have the upper hand in their marriage. However, Greek Orthodox priests explain that this “ritual” is, actually, a misinterpretation of the Bible’s scriptures. In the Apostolos Pavlos passage that is read during a Greek Orthodox wedding service, the word “fear” is another word for “respect”. It means to honour the spouse; rather than being afraid of him. See the confusion here?

Many mothers of the brides took this passage literally and insisted on their daughter stepping foot on her groom when the priest reads this specific passage. Most of the time, it is something to laugh with. There are many similar traditions across Greece. For example, Tsakones (in eastern Peloponnese) as the family of the bride (petheri) would throw water onto the groom and sing songs saying how the bride-to-be now has him (the groom) wrapped around her finger!

On the flip side of the coin, there are also instances when the groom removes his foot to avoid being stepped on and turn the laugh on his bride’s failed attempt (or his fast reflexes)! Also, I have seen many times grooms taking action first and stepping onto their bride’s foot before she even had time to move! The Orthodox Church does not agree with either, of course, and advises the couple that has decided to walk a shared life with love, mutual understanding, and compassion to focus on asking for divine guidance for this new start.

 

 

The Celebration

Last but not least, the wedding celebration and dinner, like almost everything in Greece, is loud – really loud! If you have seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies, then you know what I'm talking about! There is so much joy and enthusiasm in the air that the Greeks express through singing, dancing, and speaking loudly! It's amazing how the Greeks can dance in circles for hours non-stop. The bride and groom dance first, followed by their parents and closest relatives, who, by turns, lead the dance. At some weddings, the groom's parents and relatives start the first dance with the bridegroom. The second dance is for the bride's parents and their relatives. Again, the koumparos or koumpara are important figures as they get to join the dance, no matter who leads it!
 
 
Greek wedding traditionsA Cypriot money dance
 
 
The food differs from area to area since each part of Greece has its unique style of cooking. What's common, though, is that meat is served in big portions followed by local cuisine dishes.

Each area also has its representative folk music. The most popular are dimotika wedding songs such as tsamika, ipirotika (Epirus), thrakiotika (Thrace), zeimpekika, kalamatiana, kritika (Crete) and nisiotika (Islands) like the most beloved "Tou Gamou" especially of Giannis Parios' performance.

On Greek-Cypriot weddings, there is a dance for the couple called “Money Dance”. This is because while the bridegroom dance to traditional music with a napkin in their hands, guests come and pin money on their clothes. Some couples might still celebrate with this dance, which is also a way of gathering the customary wedding gifts of cash.


Paschalis Terzis as a guest sings with a bride in Thessaloniki






From all around Greece

Other Wedding Customs

In many smaller towns and villages of Greece, a wedding band escort the bride from her home to the church and everybody dances all along the way!


The Bride's Bread is when the bride was about to exit her parent's home, her parents break a large wedding pretzel or “nifopsomo” over her head and give everybody present a piece so they can wish for a good life, happy marriage, health, and wealth to the bride-to-be.


The Mother-in-Law's Treat is when the bride's mother-in-law waits for her bride to come home after the wedding, she treats her with honey and walnuts. The honey symbolises the sweet life she wishes the couple to have and the walnuts symbolise fertility. Also, I've seen mother-in-laws place an iron ring under the doormat. The newlyweds step on the iron ring. That way, they are wished for a solid-rock marriage! Finally, some mother-in-laws place a piece of cotton on their bride's chest, wishing her to live a blessed life by their son's side until her hair is white!


Centaurus' Mountain Celebrate! Enchanting Pelio Μountain at the southeastern part of Thessaly has people that hold old wedding traditions like a Bible. Women ensure they make spoon sweets (or “gluko tou koutaliou”) and treats from the trees that flourish in the area so they can have them ready for an entire year. That way, if a wedding takes place during that year, they are well-prepared!  At Zagora village, baklava was, and still is, a traditional wedding treat and its making is an important part of the whole ritual! It comes with such a strong symbolism of the couple's sweet new life that it comes as no surprise it's not missed from any wedding. Admittedly, the women here are masters of baklava, judging from my personal culinary experience!


Who's Next? Many modern Greek wedding receptions have borrowed events from other cultures. For example, throwing out the bridal bouquet to see who's next in line to get married is not among the Greek wedding traditions. The same applies to the Greek grooms that are seen using their teeth to retrieve their wife's garter and throwing it out to the single men present to see who is the next lucky guy to find his other half and get married. Nevertheless, we can't say we're not enjoying the new customs!

Cretan Multi-Day Feasts!

To the Cretans, weddings are a community thing; everybody participates and everybody celebrates a wedding! In fact, celebrations start the day before the wedding, when family and friends gather at the bridegroom's homes and have a feast with lots of wine and food. And this goes on and on for days after the wedding!


Just before the wedding, there's also another custom for the Cretans. The bride and her parents prepare a delicate basket with the groom's clothes (suit, vest, tie, shoes, etc.) and the same happens with the groom, who prepares his bride's wedding dress, shoes, underwear, and everything else she'll need to prepare for the wedding. Then, relatives from both sides deliver the clothes to the other side, greeted with treats and warm hugs. In some cases, a lovely “show” takes place, where the relatives “refuse” to hand over an item or try to “steal” an item from the other side's home!


As for the koumparos or koumpara, they have a special place in every Cretan wedding. Among the customs for the koumparos is the kaniski (gifts and presents) that should be given to the koumparos on Saturday night. At older times, that gifts included wine and a sheep or goat and signaled the start of a feast and singers singing local, traditional wedding songs! Today, the type of treats the koumparos gets varies, but the gamokoulouro (semi-sweet bread beautifully adorned) is a must.


The Cretans celebrate for days and days with lots of raki or tsikoudia, a strong distilled spirit, and Cretan wedding deserts known as xerotigana (fried dumplings with honey). Needless to say, the widely known gamopilafo is also a front-line dish!!!


Finally, during the wedding ceremony, single men and women (guests) are offered honey and walnuts!
In Cyprus

Besides the stolisma, the koumparos or coumera used to write their names on a large, white ribbon that would be linked to the wedding crowns, during the ceremony. The more koumpari, the better! As a matter of fact, the success of a marriage was believed to be determined by the number of koumparos or coumera they had!

 

A Greek couple

Cretan Mantinada (Form of Folk Song)

In Greek
 

Τα μάτια της, τα μάτια του ήταν προξενητάδες,
ούτε προικιά γυρέψανε ούτε πολλούς παράδες.


Τον Ύψιστο παρακαλώ να σας χαρίζει χρόνους,
όπως χαρίζει στην ελιά τα φύλλα και τους κλώνους.


Εύχομαι σ’ όσους ήρθανε για να μας συγχαρούνε,
και στα δικά τους τα παιδιά τέτοια χαρά να δούνε.

Translated

(although it's very difficult – to almost impossible – to depict the sentiment delivered in Greek)


 

When their eyes met, they knew they had it all.
No dowry, no money was needed to make their love grow.


I pray to the Lord to give you many happy years
and give your marriage roots so deep to shake away all fears.


To those that have come to drink to our joy,
I wish them all the best and live the same joy.

A just-married couple walking in an old Greek village

The aftermath



There are many Greek wedding traditions, customs and rituals that are followed even nowadays with the most important and common ones outlined above. However, there are hundreds more that are not so well known as they come from small islands or villages and the only way to get to know them is to be part of one of those deeply traditional weddings in Greece!

A girl and bridal shoes

Final Thoughts From The Photographer!

I must admit I feel honoured to have been part of so many weddings during the last years and been treated like a beloved family member by so many Greek people within the geographic borders of our wonderful Greece and across the UK, the US, Germany and Australia. After a two decades shooting Greek weddings and their traditions, I have acquired an appreciation of the traditions from every corner of Greece's mainland and the islands of the beautiful Ionian, North and South Aegean seas, including Crete and our beloved Cyprus. However, the vastness of the Greek greatness and the richness of our traditions and customs will always amaze me as there is something new with each Greek wedding, whose moments I am called to immortalise and enshrine.
Σας ευχαριστώ θερμά!

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If you like my work and you wish to hire me for your wedding get in touch! I love to travel and I would absolutely LOVE to be a part of your Greek wedding anywhere in the world!

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