Greek Weddings & Customs
Every culture around the world has its own traditions and customs when it comes to weddings. Some of these are based on religion and others are based on the regional customs of the area. Greek weddings and customs are no different.
Some of the Greek wedding customs are based on religion, others on superstition and others from the various influences of our Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cousins . In addition, as Greeks have emigrated to other countries, it is very common that the Greek customs have blended in with the customs of that country. Kitchen teas, hen's nights and other customs and symbolism have slowly crept in the Greek-Anglo culture.
Below is a list of the most common traditional Greek wedding customs that seem to permeate the Greek culture no matter where those Greeks currently live.
The Bride's Dowry (Prika)
Every Greek mother with teenage daughters will start to slowly accumulate a Prika for each daughter ready for when she is married and needs to set up her own household. The Prika consists of basic household linen and if the daughter is very lucky, it will also consist of her mother's or grandmother's handmade lace or other handmade items.
This is a time for a big celebration, almost as big as the wedding. Some couples have the religious Betrothal Ceremony, others choose to simply exchange rings in front of their family. The couple will wear their engagement ring on the left ring finger (which traditionally was just the wedding band itself) and then wear it on the right ring finger, after the wedding.
The Marital Bed
A few days before the wedding, the bridesmaids and other women close to the bride, will ceremonially make up the marital bed with luxurious linen taken out of the bride's Prika. Once finished, the women will toss rice, sugared almonds, rose petals and money on the bed. To finish the symbolic well wishes of health, wealth and happiness, the women will roll a baby across the bed for fertility.
It is customary for the groom to pay for the entire bridal trousseau. The groom would deliver this to the bride’s house the day before to the accompaniment of loud music and dancing.
On the day of the wedding, a member of the bride’s family will place her feet in her bridal shoes and will place some money in her left shoe for prosperity. Notes are better than coins but of course, traditionally, if the family could afford it, a gold lira was used.
In villages, the bridal procession starts from the groom’s home with the band playing loud music. The groom, his family and relatives and the band then make their way to the bride’s home. The bride will serve him some wine and a sweet. The bride and groom with their entourage make their way to the church, followed loudly by the band.
Greek Marriage Ceremony
There are three main parts to the ceremony. The first is the betrothal ceremony, where the koumbaro exchanges the couples rings three times. The second is the stefana or the crown ceremony, where the koumbaro exchanges the couple’s crowns three times. Lastly, the couple and their koumbaro perform the Isaiah Dance where they circle their way three times around the bible. Traditionally, it is at this time, rice and sugared almonds are showered over the couple. Everything is done three times to signify the Holy Trinity.
The Stefana or crowns are garlands usually made with pearls, diamantes or crystals joined by a white ribbon. The exchange of the stefana from bride to groom, symbolises the union of the couple where they are no longer two but now of one flesh. After the ceremony, the couple usually frame the stefana and hang them in their bedroom, forever reminding them of their union.
The koumbaro (male) or koumbara (female) is the person who has the great honour of exchanging the rings and stefana during the ceremony. This person has an important spiritual role to play for the couple not only during the ceremony but throughout their lives, particularly as this person usually baptizes the couples’ first born, and as such, is highly respected by the couple and their family.
Sugared Almonds (Koufetta)
Sugared almonds or koufetta feature heavily in Greek weddings. These represent the bitter-sweet nature of marriage and must always be in odd numbers to symbolise the indivisibility of the couple. They are tossed on the marital bed before the wedding, they are placed on the silver tray with the stefana during the ceremony (along with rice and rose petals) and they are placed in tulle and tied to the bombonniere. The five sugared almonds symbolise health, prosperity, happiness, fertility and longevity.
Bombonniere is the gift given to wedding guests and are always accompanied by five sugared almonds wrapped in tulle and ribbon. Traditionally, the koumbaro chooses and pays for the bombonniere. They are handed out to wedding guests by the youngest of the bridesmaids as each guest leaves the church. These days, bombonnieres may be placed on each table at the reception.
Sweeten the Bride
Before entering her husband’s familial home, the bride is offered a teaspoon of honey by her mother-in-law ensuring their harmonious relationship.
Greek Wedding Reception
Traditionally the entire village was invited to the wedding reception, where the band would play all night and the guests would break plates for good luck. The bride and groom would lead their guests in the first of many Greek dances and it would be at this point, that family and friends would pin money notes on the bride’s dress.