Greek weddings are festive events with many traditions spanning both the Greek Orthodox Church and ancient cultural superstitions.
While traditions vary from village to village, as well as from different regions and islands, there are a few aspects of a typical Greek wedding that are universal across the country.
Many of these customs are rooted in ancient traditions that influence every detail of the nuptials, from engagement rings to the wedding ceremony and after.
Do you want to marry … my family?
If you’ve ever seen the movie “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding”, you’ve got a pretty good idea of how a Greek engagement goes. Traditionally, when Greek couples get engaged, they do so in front of their whole family.
Then there is a big party and the families celebrate. Don’t be confused when you see Greek couples wearing their wedding rings on the left hand as engagement rings and moving those same rings on the right hand once married.
This placement stems from the belief that the right hand is the hand that God blesses, the hand to which Christ has ascended, and the direction in which those who will inherit the earth will go.
Nowadays in modern fashion you will sometimes see women sporting two rings, a wedding ring and a wedding ring.
In this case, the engagement ring should be placed on the right hand after the wedding ring, as the wedding ring should always be closest to the heart.
Set the date for a Greek wedding
Fixing a date for a wedding in Greece can have its complications. There are several traditional times of the year when you shouldn’t – or just can’t – have a wedding ceremony.
Traditionally, the “forbidden” dates for getting married revolve around religious holidays. For example, a couple wishing to get married in the summer must count the first two weeks of August entirely devoted to the celebration of the Virgin Mary.
In addition, Greeks do not marry during the forty days before Christmas, nor during the whole period of Lent, the forty day period before Easter.
In addition, many stick to the tradition of waiting a year after the death of a close family member before moving forward with the marriage, as a sign of respect in mourning the dead.
Other holy days where weddings should not be celebrated are August 29, which marks the beheading of Saint John the Baptist, and September 14, which is the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Making the marriage bed before a Greek wedding
Another wedding tradition is the preparation of the wedding bed, which usually takes place the day before the wedding.
The ritual is simple and doesn’t change much across the country, but has fallen into disuse in many large cities.
It starts 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, bridal attendants also help prepare the marital bed, as long as they are single women.
In some cases, a baby is rolled up on the bed to ensure fertility, and superstitions say that the sex of a couple’s first child is determined by the sex of the baby that is rolled up on the bed.
Ready, ready, shave
On the wedding day, the groom is shaved by his witness, or “koumbaro”, as a sign of trust between the two men.
Other traditions want friends of the groom to help him get dressed by putting his jacket over him or buttoning up his shirt, all symbolic gestures playing a role in helping him get ready for the big day.
Sometimes they even place a piece of iron in the groom’s pocket to help ward off evil spirits – part of the ancient superstitions that still endure in Greece today.
Prepare the bride
The bride also has the help of her friends to prepare. Her maid of honor, or “koumbara”, is by her side throughout the ceremony, even upstream.
A very cherished tradition is the writing of the names of all the bride’s single friends on the bottom of her wedding shoes.
By the end of the evening, they will all be exhausted, symbolizing that the friends will not be single for very long and that they will soon be getting married on their own.
Many times the bride will place a sugar cube in her glove or have one sewn inside her dress for a “sweet life”.
Leaving home for church, the bride takes one last look at her home – in the hope that her children will take her side of the family.
Superstitions and good luck
The Greeks are always ready to ward off the evil eye, which is believed to be a spell placed on you by the envy or jealousy of someone else, whether for a good or bad way.
When you have the evil eye on you, you feel dizzy, yawn a lot, and have a headache.
So how does the bride keep the evil eye away from this most important day of every day? Simple.
She’s wearing blue, or eye charm, somewhere. Also, if someone compliments the wedding dress, they should spit “ftoo” three times to ward off any negative forces that might be at work.
In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear a refrain of “ftoo, ftoo, ftoo!” As the bride walks down the island.
Additionally, odd numbers are considered lucky because an odd number cannot be divided as an even number.
The couple must have an odd number of participants in the ceremony, an odd number of flowers in the bouquet and for the koufeta as well.
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 who become one in marriage.
At the heart of the ceremony, the koumbaros place the wedding crowns on the heads of the bride and groom after having passed them three times over the heads of the couple to symbolize unity as well as the holy trinity.
After sipping wine from the same cup, the bride and groom are led three times around the altar table by the koumbaros while a Greek prayer is recited by the priest.
Then, in some more traditional villages, the priest offers the newlyweds almonds soaked in honey.
However, in modern times it is much more common to end a ceremony with guests throwing both rice and koufeta when the newlyweds leave the church.
This is also symbolic, as the rice symbolizes fertility and the koufeta represents the bittersweet aspect of life.
Traditions continue after the ceremony
As part of the tradition, when the new bride first arrives at her in-laws, she participates in a ritual known as “the bride’s pastry”.
This ritual varies from village to village and according to different regions of Greece. Some brides will dip her fingers in honey and then make the sign of the cross in the hope of a good relationship with her mother-in-law.
Other rituals consist of brides smashing a pomegranate at the door of the house, scattering the pomegranate seeds, symbolizing prosperity and fertility.
Or sometimes, for this ancient ritual, the bride throws a piece of iron on the roof of the in-laws to demonstrate the strength of her new home.