Greek weddings are festive events with many traditions stemming from both the Greek Orthodox church and from ancient cultural superstitions.
Although traditions vary from village to village, as well as from region to region, there are a few aspects of a typical Greek wedding that are universal.
Many of these customs are steeped in ancient traditions that influence every last detail of the nuptials, from the engagement rings to the wedding ceremony and onwards.
Will you marry…my family?
If you have ever seen the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you have a pretty good idea about how a Greek engagement goes. Traditionally, when Greek couples become engaged, they do so in front of their entire family.
Afterwards, there is a huge party and the families celebrate. Now don’t be confused when you see Greek couples wearing their wedding rings on their left hands as engagement rings and then move those same rings to their right hands once married.
This placement stems from the belief that the right hand is the hand that God blesses, the hand to which Christ ascended, and the direction to which those who embrace Him will move.
Nowadays, in modern fashion, you will sometimes see women sporting two rings, an engagement and wedding band.
In this case, the engagement ring must be placed on the right hand after the wedding band, as the wedding band should always be closest to the heart.
Setting the date for a Greek wedding
Setting the date for a wedding in Greece can have its complications. There are several traditional times of year when you should not—or simply cannot—hold a wedding ceremony.
Traditionally, the “forbidden” dates to get married revolve around religious holidays. For example, a couple wanting a summer wedding must account for the first two weeks in August that are completely devoted to celebrating the Virgin Mary.
Furthermore, Greeks do not get married during the forty days preceding Christmas nor during the entire period of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter.
Many also hold to the tradition of waiting a year after a close family member has passed away before going forward with a wedding as a sign of respect for the dead.
Some other holy days during which weddings should not be held are 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 marital bed before a Greek wedding
Another wedding tradition is the preparation of the wedding bed, which usually takes place on the night before the wedding.
The ritual is straightforward and doesn’t change much throughout the country but has fallen out of fashion in many larger cities.
It begins with the bride’s mother and grandmother covering the bed with flower petals, coins, and koufeta (Jordan almonds) to ensure love, prosperity, and fertility.
In some cases, the bride’s attendants also help prepare the marital bed—as long as they are single women.
In some cases, a baby is rolled across the bed to guarantee fertility, and superstitions say that the gender of the couple’s first child is determined by the gender of the baby that is rolled across the bed.
Ready, set, shave
On the day of the wedding, the groom is shaved by his best man, or “koumbaro,” as a sign of trust between the two men.
Other traditions are that the groom’s friends help him get dressed by placing his jacket on him or buttoning his shirt, all symbolic gestures in playing a role to help him get ready for the big day.
Occasionaly, they even place a piece of iron in the groom’s pocket to help ward off evil spirits as part of the ancient superstitions that continue even in contemporary Greece.
Getting the bride ready
The bride also has the help of her friends in getting ready. Her maid of honor, or “koumbara,” accompanies her throughout the entire ceremony, even beforehand.
A tradition that is much cherished is the writing of the names of all of the brides’ single friends on the bottom of her wedding shoes.
By the end of the evening, they will all get worn off, symbolizing that the friends won’t be single much longer and will soon be tying the knot themselves.
Oftentimes, the bride will place a cube of sugar in her glove or have one stitched into the inside of her gown for a “sweet life.”
When leaving the house for the church, the bride looks back at her house one last time—in hopes that her children will take after her side of the family.
Superstitions and good luck
Greeks are always prepared to ward off the evil eye, which is believed to be a hex placed on you by someone else’s envy or jealousy—whether meant in a good or bad way.
When you have the evil eye cast upon you, you feel dizzy, yawn a lot, and get a headache.
So how does the bride ward off the evil eye on this most important of all days?
She simply wears blue, or a charm of the eye. Also, if someone compliments the bride’s dress, they must spit (so to say) three times to ward off any negative energy at play.
In fact, it isn’t at all uncommon to hear a chorus of ‘ftoo, ftoo, ftoo!” (the sound uttered by Greeks when “spitting”) as the bride processes down the aisle.
In addition, odd numbers are considered lucky because an odd number cannot be split as can an even number.
The couple should have an odd number of attendees at the ceremony and an odd number of flowers in the bouquet and koufeta.
The Ceremony of a traditional Greek wedding
A traditional Greek wedding ceremony follows the ceremonies and rituals of the Greek Orthodox Church.
There are two golden crowns, or “stefana,” connected by a single strand of ribbon, which symbolizes the union of two people becoming one in marriage.
At the heart of the ceremony, the best man places the wedding crowns over the bride’s and groom’s heads after passing them over the couple’s heads three times to symbolize unity, as well as the holy trinity.
After sipping wine from the same cup, the bride and groom are led around the altar table three times by the best man as a Greek prayer is recited by the priest.
Afterwards, in some more traditional villages, the priest offers the newly-wed couple honey-dipped almonds.
However, in modern times, it is much more common to end a ceremony with guests throwing both rice and koufeta as the newlyweds leave the church.
This is also symbolic, as the rice symbolizes fertility while the koufeta represents the bittersweet aspect of life.
Traditions continue after the ceremony
As a part of tradition, when the new bride first arrives at her in-laws’ home, she participates in a ritual known as the “sweetening of the bride.”
This ritual varies from region to region throughout Greece. Some brides will dip their fingers in honey then make the sign of the cross in hopes of a good relationship with her mother-in-law.
Other rituals consist of brides smashing a pomegranate at the entrance to the home, thus scattering the pomegranate’s seeds; this symbolizes prosperity and fertility.
In terms of this ancient ritual, the bride sometimes tosses a piece of iron onto the in-laws’ roof to demonstrate the strength of her new home.