A GREEK WEDDING
Greece is a very rich country in traditions and customs. However, a wedding ceremony remains until today one of the greatest Greek traditions, in all cities and villages of Greece. A Greek Orthodox wedding consists of two major parts, the engagement and the wedding ceremony.
The exchange of the rings: A wedding ceremony begins with an engagement. The couple wait at the church door, where the priest, according to the teachings of religion, will ask them if it is their desire to be married. Then, the priest will lead them into the church, and to the front, just in front of the table of mystery.
The priest will bless the wedding rings, then the best man (the koumparos) will put the rings on to the couple’s right hands, the couple which will exchange the rings three times, The exchanging of the rings signifies that in their married life, the weakness of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other partner, and the imperfections of one by the other. The priest will bless the union, touching the couple’s head with the rings and then by placing the vestment over the joined hands of the couple.
The candles: In earlier times, the couple used to hold two lit candles during the ceremony but this was later replaced by two candles, at each side of the alter (the mystery table). The lighted candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Jesus Christ, the Light of the world according to the Christian religion, that will ” illuminate ” and bless the couple at the beginning of their new life.
Some people also say that the candles symbolize the old oil lamps of the 5 wise maidens in the story from the Gospel of Matthew, about the 10 maidens. (5 were wise maidens and 5 were foolish maidens – foolish because they were not ready to enter into the Bridal Feast with the Bridegroom, Who is Christ). The candles also symbolize Christ and His light as He will bless them through this sacrament because He is the high Priest that is uniting the couple.
Up to 20 years or so ago, most marriages in Greece were arranged by the parents οf the bride and groom, and to some extent “arrangements” are still made on behalf of some unmarried young people. But today most young people simply meet, fall in love, get engaged and then married.
Although dowries are legally out, other traditions still prevail. A young couple usually keeps their involvement to themselves and their friends, although the new generation now seems more likely to bring their current “flames” home to meet mom and dad, whatever their reaction!
What happens, however, when the couple decides to get engaged is still very much tied to tradition. There are no diamond rings slipped on trembling fingers over candlelit dinners or the surprise announcement, “We’re engaged!” No, things are much more complicated than this, after all, this is Greece!
Engagements are of two distinct types, or perhaps they should be viewed as being carried out in two parts. Of course, one or the other part can be eliminated, thus simplifying things. The first phase is when the couple pledge themselves to one another in the presence of their parents: they give their word (dinoun logo) this marks the first time the immediate families of the couple meet each other and the occasion is usually over dinner at the bride’s home.
The future groom (gambros) formally declares his love and devotion to his intended and, “all going well,” gives his word that they will marry. His father gives his future daughter-in-law (nyfi) a ring or a piece of jewelry, and the bride’s father gives his future son-in-law some token. In the past this was when the dowry was brought up, but now it is either not mentioned at all or only in passing—but fathers still try to give their daughters an apartment or house to live in. From then on the families visit back and forth on name days, etc., and the couple is ostensibly engaged. The families are now sypetheroi (co-in laws).
Later, a second or more formal engagement ceremony (aravonas) might (or might not) take place in the presence of a larger group of family and friends, when the actual wedding bands are exchanged and worn on the left hand. This betrothal is sometimes even blessed by a priest.
There is much eating, drinking and dancing, and the happy couple are toasted with kala stefana (“happy crowning,” referring to the coronation ceremony during the wedding) or i ora kali (the hour is right or good). Also, the more typical congratulation (synhariteria) is appropriate. If you are invited to an engagement party, flowers or a decorative plant is an appropriate gift. At this point, the couple usually starts making definite wedding plans and set the date.
Showers are not given for brides in Greece. The linens, trousseau and furnishings for the new home are provided by the bride’s family, and a typical bride will have an entire hope chest filled with hand-embroidered and crocheted linens made by herself or her mother and aunts and grandmothers.
One custom sometimes still takes place on the eve of the wedding, the formal “bed-making” (to krevati). On this occasion, the nuptial bed is made up by the bride’s girlfriends and female relatives, and gifts of money, often in the form of gold coins signifying prosperity, are thrown on it. Sometimes a small boy is tossed on the bed in the hope that the first child will be a boy. The krevati custom is more commonly practiced in smaller towns and villages than in the large cities.
The groom awaits his bride outside the entrance to the church along with his family am other guests. The bride arrives in a flower-bedecked car and is given away by he father. She kisses her mother-in-law (pethera) and the groom, and they enter the church followed by the guests.
The couple are attended by their best man and/or maid οf honor (koumbaros and/or koumbara). There are no other attendants except (sometimes) small children dressed in white (paranymphi). A table flanked by two large decorated candles (lambathes) has been prepared in front of the iconostasis; on it is \ goblet of wine, the rings, the crowns, the New Testament, and a plate of sugar-coated almonds.
The marriage service is divided into two parts, the betrothal and the sacrament proper (or ceremony of crowning). During the betrothal the rings are blessed and placed by the priest on the couple’s right hands, and the koumbaros/a exchanges them between the bride and groom three times.
The second part of the service culminates ij the ceremony of coronation, when the priest places the crowns (stefana, made of pear and small artificial flowers and joined by a long satin ribbon) on the heads of the couple; these are also exchanged three times by the koumbaros/a. The three exchange of the rings and the stefana signify the special grace the couple receives from the Hoi Trinity. Afterwards, the couple drinks wine (three sips) from the common cup, which recalls the marriage at Canaa and symbolizes the beginning of their shared life. At th very end, the couple joins hands and are led by the priest and the koumbaros/a three times around the marriage table in the “dance of Isaiah” (choros tou Isaia).
At this point the bridal procession is showered with rice and flower petals passed out to the guests by young friends of the bride. The rice symbolizes happiness and prosperity
The priest once again blesses the union, and the couple leaves the church. 1 receiving line is formed either in the foyer of the church or outside. Wishes of long lift na zisete, are extended to the newlyweds, and na sas zisoun (“May they have a Ion life”) to the koumbaros/a and family members in the receiving line.
Before leaving, the guests are given a token of thanks, traditionally an odd number of sugared almonds tie up in squares or rounds of white tulle with a white ribbon. The almonds signify fertility and happiness, the sugar the sweet memory of the occasion. This custom dates from Roman and Byzantine times, when honey-covered nuts were eaten at wedding
For formal weddings, invitations to the reception are issued with the wedding invitation (prosklisi) and require an RSVP. In less formal situations, the father of the bride or groom will issue a verbal on-the-spot invitation after the wedding for a “little get together” at a tavern or at the house in honor of the bride and groom. This last minute situation sometimes is confusing to foreigners, who might feel uncomfortable at being asked at the last minute. Rest assured you should go along, kids and all; you would not have been asked if you weren’t welcome.
Gifts can either be sent to the home or brought to the church. Appropriate presents are small household furnishings, small appliances, silver or crystal objects—but never linens (these are always part of the “dowry”). Wedding gifts should be gift-wrapped in the shop where purchased, which will insert a card giving exchange instructions, should also include your calling card with appropriate congratulations written on back.
Gifts should not be re wrapped in special wedding paper, nor is a wedding necessary. Wedding lists or registries are beginning to be featured at the larger shops and department stores, but this is still not an “accepted” practice probably because it’s considered gauche to tell people what to buy or even to imply that newlyweds need anything (since the dowry previously provided all).