For those of you who have never experienced on-looking
a ‘Greek Wedding’ and all the build up and preparations to it, then I want to
share with you the Wedding of ‘Thomas and Athena’, our very good friends.
Thomas works at the family’s taverna, ‘Taverna Agni’ along side Theo, and
has done so now for four summers as an evening waiter. During the daytime he
works for the local water authority. Athena is a ‘Border Patrol Policewoman’
positioned at the Kassiopi division! They have been together now for almost
four years so it was about time that they tied the knot!
Up to, as recently as 20 years ago the parents of the bride and groom
arranged most marriages in Greece and to some extent this still happens in
the more remote areas. Today most couples meet, fall in love and get
married, and even though the dowry has legally been abolished since the
PASOK government Family Law reforms in 1983. This tradition is still
maintained in the majority of Greek weddings although not with the
traditional ‘Dowry Contract’ as used in the past.
The week preceding the wedding is full of traditional preparations. One of
the most certainly lucrative but also adhered to is the ‘krevati’ or making
of the bed! This usually happens two days before the wedding and is a big
gathering of the two families, relatives and friends. Lots of eating and
drinking is of course also customary, and followed by
two young unmarried girls to make up the double bed (similar to our
tradition of throwing the bride’s bouquet, it is believed that the first one
to get a pillowcase on will get married soon) and then all the people
present throw money on the bed including gold coins to make the marriage
After the bed has been
showered with money a young male child (or female!) is thrown on the bed in
hope that the first child from the union of the couple will also be a boy
(girl). The next item on the agenda amazed even me, as I have been to a lot
of ‘krevati makings’ here now and not seen this ‘village’ tradition (just
goes to show that every village has different traditions) the shooting of
Yes I am not joking; first it
was Thomas to fire a round of live ammunition from the rifle into the air,
followed closely by Athena! Being a Police woman no one questioned her!!
Then a couple of very close relatives also had a go. This is to symbolise
the happiness of the couple and to let all the other villagers know it will
soon be their wedding day - and nothing to do with a 'shotgun wedding'!
Much later on after more drinking and merriment, the local Corfiot musicians
struck up their cords and began to play, hence dancing took place outside
the house with all who wanted to join in the fun! And what fun it was! Thank
goodness I had remembered my dancing lessons from the previous winter here.
The eve before the Wedding is when the couple have their separate ‘hen’ &
‘stag’ parties. This has only been introduced to Greece in the last 10
years, it is not a Corfiot tradition and so not every couple partakes in
this event. Thomas and the boys went to have a meal out in the country and
then more drinks and dancing was attempted on disco strip (Mandouki) just
outside of Corfu town, they had a roaring evening, Theo and the 'boys'
managed to find their way back home at about 5am the next morning and
staggered straight to bed!
Athena and the girls set off
for the ‘Privilege Club’ again on disco strip but the other end to where the
boys were heading. After a few drinks they crossed the road to the ‘Stathi’
Bazoukia Night Club. Wow, what an experience! A table reserved at the front
of the show gave them the best atmosphere possible, lots of singing,
drinking, and later, dancing took place. Much later on after having sore
feet from dancing, and a sore throat from all the singing, we decided it was
time to head off back home, getting in well after the boys! After all we
wanted some beauty sleep for the BIG DAY only a few hours away.
To my knowledge, all Greek Weddings take place in the late afternoon, and
never the morning, this giving everyone plenty of time to get to the
hairdressers etc. But, the majority of brides have a hairdresser and
beautician come to the family home to ‘apply the finishing touches’ to her
beauty, some brides also have a video made of their last few hours as a
single woman in the house with her family, and getting ready to meet her
‘husband to be’ at the church doors. Now, who would you really want to see
you with your hair in rollers?? And no make up on??
On the day of the wedding the groom awaits the bride outside the church with
his family and ‘koumbaras’ (equivalent of best man/matron of honour), the
bride arrives (it is customary to be at least 30 minutes late!) either in a
car decorated beautifully with flowers, or (if not far) walks to the church
behind local Corfiot musicians playing a selection of the well known old
village songs, with her family behind her.
Athena chose the latter
and as they entered the church the rifles began firing again from close
relatives and Athena’s work companions. Once inside the church, there are no
pews or chairs, everyone just gathers around and stands next to who ever
they want to hold a conversation with during the service! Athena was given
away by her father, and all the family members stand at the front of the
church, the bride’s side on the left, and the groom’s side on the right. A
table flanked by two large ‘lambades’ (very large decorated candles) already
awaits in front of the iconostasis. On it are the rings and the crowns (not
dissimilar to a halo) laying on a bed of sugar coated almonds, the New
Testament and a glass of red wine. The first part of the wedding involves
the betrothal, the rings are blessed and the ‘koumbaros’ exchange them
between the bride and groom three times. The second part, the sacrament,
culminates in the ceremony of the coronation when the priest crowns the
couple; these are also exchanged three times by the ‘koumbaros’.
The three exchanges of
rings and crowns signify the special grace the couple receive from the Holy
Trinity. Afterwards the couple drink three sips of wine from a common glass,
which symbolises the Marriage of Canaa and the beginning of their shared
life. The next little bit of the ceremony involves the ‘stamping on toes’,
this is where the priest asks ‘who is going to be the head of the family?’
(the stronger of the two) and this is the woman’s opportunity to stamp on
her new husbands toes before he does it to her! This caused a few giggles,
but according to Theo, now all the men let the women ‘stamp their toes’
After the congregation calmed
down, it is now time to undo your little bag of rice (that was given to you
during the first part of the ceremony) and get ready to throw it at the
Bride and Groom as they are led by the priest and followed by the
‘koumbaros’ around the marriage table three times, this is known as the
‘choros tou Isaia’ (dance of Isaiah), also sugared almonds are used to throw
at the couple, the rice signifying happiness and prosperity the almonds
fertility and the sugar the sweet memory of the occasion.
The floor of the church
scattered with rice!
After the ceremony a receiving line is formed either inside or outside the
church where wishes are extended to the newlyweds and their family by all
present. The wishes are usually ‘na zisete’ (may you have a long life), ‘na
sas zisoun’ to the parents and relatives (may they have a long life) and
‘panda axios’ (always worthy) to the koumbaros’. Upon leaving the church all
the guests are given a little pouch made with tulle and filled with sugared
almonds as a token of thanks (sometimes these are given as you are leaving
the evening reception instead of at the church).
Lots of Wedding photos are now
taken inside the church with both sides of the families and friends.
Wedding presents are usually taken to the house before the wedding; however,
Greeks seldom make wedding lists so it can be tricky knowing what to buy the
newlyweds, in this case an envelope containing money is given to them at the
receiving line after the ceremony. This is what the majority of the Greeks
give, it is easier than having to shop and purchase a present!
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After the ceremony has finished we all get back into our cars and drive to
the reception, following the Bride and Groom’s car. Lots of honking of horns
is necessary when ever you pass through a village on the way to the
reception. It is letting the villagers know that you are a Wedding party in
Bearing in mind that an average Greek Wedding invites 200-300 people, it is
manic to try and park your car anywhere near the venue!
The wedding couple have
their own parking space specially reserved!
As the couple are having more
photos taken, the rest of us find our tables inside. We sit any where; no
seating plan is required as with in England. Drinks are already on the
table, from ouzo, wine, water, soft drinks and beers you help yourself all
night long. Just put up your hand to a passing waiter and wave your empty
bottle at him, he will refill immediately. Once the couple enter the room,
the live band starts up, and everyone cheers very loudly, tapping their
knife against their wine glass – this is to symbolise the guests want the
newlyweds to ‘kiss’. This tradition will happen all night long at various
different intervals, when ever someone from the Wedding party starts to tap
their glass – everyone else joins in with them, making a loud shrill noise
echoing around the room, only stopping once the Bride and Groom have stood
up and ‘kissed’ one another.
It was a great day!