Greek wedding traditions have their roots in ancient customs and religious ritual. Perhaps you are familiar with them from weddings you have attended. Or maybe the closest you have ever been is watching the popular movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” You might be looking to understand what you have seen or incorporate some ceremonies into your own wedding. These traditions unite the Greek people around the world. You can learn more about Greek culture with this Udemy course.
When Greek couples get engaged, they typically exchange engagement rings in the presence of their family. A party follows! Each partner gets a plain gold band to wear on the left hand to signal the engagement. (A big diamond solitaire for the woman only is not the Greek custom.) These are the same rings that the couple will wear as their wedding rings. The bands are blessed during the wedding ceremony, and then the couple switches them to the right hand.
Setting the Date
In setting the date, there are traditional times of year when the Greeks would never hold a wedding ceremony. Most Greeks belong to the Greek Orthodox Church and get married in that faith. (You can learn more about the differences between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity with a course in church history.)
The forbidden dates for weddings include the first two weeks of August because that is a time devoted to celebrating the Virgin Mary. Greeks also do not get married during the forty days preceding Christmas. And the entire period of Lent – the somber period forty days leading up to Easter – is also not acceptable for weddings. There are a few other holy days where weddings will also not be performed. These include August 29th, which marks the beheading of Saint John the Baptist, and September 14th, which is the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Making the Bed
Before the wedding, friends and family will help the new couple prepare their new home. The bride and her attendants – all single women – will make up the marital bed. The groom must give it his official approval. Then money (for prosperity) and rice (for putting down roots) are thrown on the bed. Lastly, a baby is rolled across the bed to guarantee fertility! Superstition says that whatever the sex of the baby is will be the sex of the couple’s first child. So if a boy is used, their first child will be a son.
Preparing the Groom
On the day of the ceremony, the groom’s friends will gather to help him get ready. His best man – called the “koumbaro” – will shave the groom. This shows the trust between them. The koumbaro will also stand by the groom during the ceremony, and has other obligations like procuring the wedding crowns. All the other friends present help to dress the groom. One might button the shirt. Another might put the jacket on him. That way they all have a symbolic role in getting him ready.
Preparing the Bride
The bride is similarly prepared by her koumbara – or maid of honor – and dressed by her friends. On the bottom of the bride’s shoes are written the names of all her unmarried friends. The names that get worn away by the end of the night are the names of the women who will be married soon themselves. The bride, once she is dressed, traditionally leaves with her father. She is told by her mother to look back at her parents’ house one last time to ensure that the children take after that side of the family.
Together, the couple must also meet with the priest at their local church. They are required to meet a few times during their engagement to ensure that they are ready for marriage and know what to expect. You can learn more about getting ready for marriage yourself with an informative online marriage course.
Good Luck Symbols
Greeks are always wary of the evil eye. This is their term for the bad wishes, jealousy, and evil thoughts of others. The evil eye should especially be warded off during such a happy time as a wedding!
For instance, if someone compliments the bride’s dress without next spitting to ward off the evil eye, the bride then could spill something down the front of her gown. The gown would be ruined and the compliment negated – thanks to the evil eye. How to protect yourself? The attendants can wear a blue eye symbol to ward off the “evil eye”. (The color blue is powerful against the evil eye.) Another way to ward off these mishaps is by spitting! (You don’t really need to spit saliva out – a simple symbolic “ptou!” suffices.) You should spit three times after a compliment is paid, or just for good luck. Ptou! Ptou! Ptou!
The bride can place a lump of sugar – for a sweet life – inside her glove. Or she can walk down the aisle with a gold coin in her shoe to bring prosperity. The groom can put a piece of iron in his pocket to ward off evil spirits.
Also, odd numbers are considered luckier than even numbers. The bride and groom should have an odd number of attendants. You spit an odd number of times. An odd number cannot be divided – which is what we hope too for the couple.
The ceremony will traditionally follow the ceremonies and rituals of the Greek Orthodox Church. Specific elements include the crowns, the candles, and the common cup. The ceremony has many steps and can easily last an hour – if not longer!
The groom waits for the bride at the front of the church. He holds her bouquet, waiting for her. She is walked down the aisle by her father, presented to the groom, and handed the bouquet.
Two gold crowns are made and connected by a single strand of ribbon. This symbolizes the union of the two people into a single married couple. The crown also signifies that they shall rule over their household together. The crowns are called “stefana” in Greek. During the ceremony, the crowns are swapped back and forth three times by the koumbaro.
The bride and groom also hold candles during the ceremony. These symbolize the light that Christ symbolizes. The candles can be left in the church to burn, or brought back home to be used, but should never be thrown out. They should be burned down completely.
The priest will pour wine into the “common cup” – that is, one single wine glass – and the bride and groom each take three sips from it. The wine symbolizes life, and the sharing of sips of it is symbolic of how the couple will share in life together.
There are also other practices that are unique to the Greek Orthodox ceremony. The koumbaro will also exchange the wedding rings three times between the couple before they are blessed and placed on the couple’s right hands. The couple will hold their right hands together during the ceremony to highlight their new life together as one unit. Then lastly, as they wear the crowns, the couple walks around the table that holds the cup, the Bible, and the candles. They are lead by the priest in this first walk together as husband and wife. This walk is a symbol of their commitment to stay with each other throughout life’s journey. The priest blesses the couple and removes the crowns. No vows are uttered by the couple – their union is cemented by the blessings of the priest and the witnessing of the congregation.
Celebrating the Wedding
After the ceremony, it is time for a celebration! In the past, it was traditional at Greek weddings to smash and break plates. This was done to signify that it was a momentous occasion! However, the practice has largely fallen out of fashion. If it is done, special plaster plates – which are both cheaper and safer to break – are used instead of the typical crockery.
Dancing is a major component of the celebration. There are different Greek dances, from the athletic Tsamiko to the ouzo-soaked Zeibekiko. The Kalamatianos is a traditional dance that originated in Kalamata in antiquity. The dancers come together, dancing to traditional rhythmic music. They move in a circle, holding hands, and rotate in a counter-clockwise direction. The last dance of the night is reserved for the bride and groom to do together. Guests come up to them and pin money to their clothes! (Another way for the couple to make some cash involves cutting up the groom’s tie and selling off the shreds to guests!)
Each guest should leave with a small bag of Jordan almonds, or koufeta. There will naturally be an odd number of almonds in the bag – for luck! The almond itself tastes slightly bitter, but the sugar-coating is a way of wishing the couple’s life will be mostly sweet. (In olden days, nuts were simply dipped in honey and eaten.) The egg-shaped almond also symbolizes fertility. And its crunchy hardness is a symbol of the endurance of the marriage! A single person can place the almonds under his or her pillow and should dream that night of the person they will marry.