Greek culture is multi-faceted and many-layered and goes back many centuries to the classical times. Hence Greek weddings incorporate a wide variety of influences ranging from remnants of pagan practices to Christian elements and more recently westernized trends.
Greek Pre-wedding rituals
A traditional Greek wedding can be considered to begin with the engagement which is usually a formal affair involving a religious ceremony. The young man officially asks for the hand of the woman from her father. Once consent is given, the priest is invited to bless the engagement rings which are worn on the left hand ring finger by the prospective couple. While most cultures allow a couple to get married any day they choose, according to the Greek tradition weddings are not held on certain dates during the year. These days are most of the country's Christian observances such as Lent and the Christmas holidays.
One of the most interesting of pre-wedding rituals in Greece is the tying of the wedding flag or ‘flamboro’. The family and friends of the bride seek out a tree branch which has five twigs. An apple and red wool is tied to the twig and this is displayed outside the home of the bride for a week before the wedding. Before the wedding ceremony, the flamboro is detached from its spot outside the bride’s home and carried to the groom’s home. It is then carried in front of the groom to lead him back to his bride’s home. The bride’s mother welcomes and blesses the future son-in-law with wine, a ring-shaped cookie, and an herbal bombonniere.
Also it is the custom for the family of a Greek bride or ‘niffi’ to arrange a ‘proika’ which she would carry to her marital home. A ‘proika’ can be thought of as dowry and it can either be an actual box that the bride takes with her when she is married or just a name given to all of the things like tea towels, table and bed linen that she receives before the wedding.
As the bride heads for the church on her wedding day, she traditionally tucks a lump of sugar into one of her wedding gloves in the hope that she enjoys a sweet married life; alternately she may carry a twig of ivy which represents everlasting love. While the modern Greek niffi is dressed in the customary white gowns of Christian brides, in ancient Greece brides wore a red or yellow veil since these colors represented fire. These brightly colored veils were supposed to protect the bride from evil spirits and demons.
In some parts of Greece, traditionally the bride rode a donkey to the church while her family and friends walked close behind. In Greece, the village church is usually within walking distance of every home so it was fairly easy for family and friends and the entire village to celebrate the bride leaving home to get married.
Another interesting custom is to write the names of single friends on the bottom of the bride’s shoe. At the end of the night the names that are worn off are destined to be married while names of those that remain may have to wait a longer while to get hitched.
The Greek wedding ceremony
The majority of contemporary Greek weddings follow the Greek Orthodox wedding service which begins with the betrothal ceremony. In this the best man or the koumbaros, holds the wedding rings over the heads of the bride and groom and blesses them three times for the Holy Trinity. Rings are exchanged, again three times, to conclude this betrothal of the bride and groom. After the wedding the bride and groom now wear the rings on the right hand. Yet another important part of the Greek wedding ceremony is the Stephana. Special marital crowns or wreaths made of orange blossoms and linked by a white ribbon are placed upon the heads of bride and groom which are then switched back and forth three times. Then the bride and groom walk around the altar three times as prayers are repeated to seal their union. As they circle the altar, guests shower them with rice or sugared almonds which are symbols of prosperity and good fortune. This is also part of the Isaiah dance which follows after the priest has declared the couple man and wife.
After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds wait in the church as all guests kiss the couple and wish them “na zisete” or ‘long life to you’.
Greek Post-wedding customs
One of the most interesting customs to follow the wedding ceremony involves rolling of babies on the bridal bed. In Greek weddings, the krevati or the making of the bridal bed is an important ritual and usually takes places two days before the wedding. It involves a big gathering of the two families, relatives and friends as well as lots of eating and drinking. The feasting is followed by the making up of the double bed by two young unmarried girls who may be sisters, cousins or friends of the bride. Around this time or after the wedding, friends and family bring their babies to the bedroom of the newlyweds and gently roll their tots back and forth across the mattress or a young child may be gently flipped on the bed which is scattered with sugar-coated almonds, rose petals, and coins, all symbolizing hopes for a prosperous and fertile union.
The Greek wedding reception
The traditional Greek wedding reception is usually a huge party and can last through the night. There is a lot of feasting, drinking and dancing, which usually starts with the money dance. During this, guests traditionally pin or tape money to the clothing of both the bride and the groom and the money collected from the dances eventually go to pay for the honeymoon. The famous Greek circle dance is yet another way to celebrate the wedding. Later on dishes are smashed on the floor for good luck and money is thrown at the musicians. At the end, candy coated almonds, called koufeta are served to the guests as reception party favors.