“Traditions” are very popular in Greece, and a Greek wedding has a lot of them! Today, most couples in Greece still choose to get married, although nowadays they usually also “live together” for a while before the wedding.
After reading the title, it is very probable that your first thoughts go to the popular movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”
The movie has made Greek weddings famous all over the world. However, people forget that the movie was about the wedding within a Greek-American family, raised and living in the USA. Greek families living “out of Greece”, many times tend to be much more traditional than Greeks living in Greece.
So, let’s see how Greeks usually get married, although there are of course many variations in every Greek wedding, depending on beliefs, location in Greece or financial means.
When Greeks plan to get married, usually the preparations last for about a year.
So how does it all start?
As in many countries, usually men in Greece propose to their partner, and when both agree, they start preparing the wedding. This is a big task, but they will not be doing this alone! They choose the best man and/or maid of honor, who help them in this preparation period.
A best man and maid of honor (‘κουμπάρος και κουμπάρα’ [koubaros kai koubara]) are usually not family, but good friends of the couple. By being ‘κουμπάροι’ [koubari], they will become friends for life and “a part of the family”. The koubari have an important role during the wedding and this role is taken very seriously.
A big part of the wedding organization is similar to other countries: looking for a place where the party can take place, making the arrangements with the church (90% of all weddings in Greece still take place in church), decoration, wedding dress and suit, rings, music, food, bachelor party etc.
Of course, it is also possible to opt for a civil wedding in the town hall. Contrary to other European countries, Greece does not require to have a civil wedding before the church wedding. Only getting married in church is enough to meet legal requirements. The younger generations in the bigger cities not always get married anymore, and might choose to “co-live” or share apartments with friends.
Below you can read on and learn about some traditions which are probably different from what you know in your countries:
1. Choosing the wedding date
In Greece, there are traditional times within a year, when it is not possible to get married, especially when you choose to get married in the Greek Orthodox Church.
The forbidden dates for weddings include periods of fasting before important celebrations. Greeks do not get married during the forty days preceding Christmas and the period of fasting between carnival and Easter. Furthermore, the Church doesn’t arrange weddings during the first 2 weeks of August which are dedicated to the fasting before the celebration of Holy Mary on August 15th.
2. The “Krevati”
‘ Το κρεβάτι’, ‘The bed’ is a tradition that goes back to the time where couples could not yet live together before they were married. As the wedding was the start of them living together in one house and sharing the bed, there is a tradition where the bed is being ‘inaugurated’ by family and friends. They gather a few days before the wedding at the house where the couple will live. Food and drinks are provided as usual and according to the tradition the newly made bed is covered with money (for wealth) and rice (for prosperity). Friends who already have children, will “throw” their baby on the bed to wish the couple fertility.
3. The Wedding Day
The groom and bride prepare themselves separately at the house of their parents. Traditional Greek music can be heard while the couple is dressing up, taking care of makeup and hairstyle, or shaving their beard!
The bride, once she is dressed, traditionally leaves the house with her father.
Another tradition is that the bride writes the names of all her closest single or not married girlfriends on the sole of her shoes. The girls whose names are erased by the end of the wedding will get married soon.
As the majority of the Greek population is Greek Orthodox, most weddings will traditionally follow the ceremonies and rituals of the Greek Orthodox Church. The ceremony lasts usually around one hour.
The groom waits for the bride in front of the church, while holding her wedding bouquet. When she arrives at the church, she is walked down the aisle by her father, presented to the groom, and she receives the bouquet.
Following Greek tradition, the bride and groom are honored as queen and king for the day, and during the ceremony in the church they wear crowns that are connected with a ribbon, to signify the union. The crown also signifies that they shall rule over their household together. The crowns are called “stefania” in Greek.
The best man and/or maid of honor (koumbaros and koubara) lead the ceremony along with the priest and he/she is the one who places the crown on the couple’s heads. He /she also exchanges the rings between the bride and groom 3 times, to remind the couple that in married life, the weaknesses of one are compensated by the strengths of the other and vice versa.
The priest will also pour wine into one single wine glass/cup – the bride and groom will each take three sips from it. The wine symbolizes life, and the sharing of sips of it is symbolic of how the couple will share in life together.
During the ceremony, the couple will hold their right hands together to symbolize their new life together as one unit. At the end of the ceremony, while still wearing the crowns, the couple walks around the table with the wine glass, the Bible, and the candles. The priest leads them in this first walk together as husband and wife. After the 3 rounds, the priest then blesses the couple and removes the crowns. During the whole service, mostly the priest is talking, so there are no wedding vows uttered by the couple.
Remarkably, up to today, the service is not held in Modern Greek, but in Koine Greek, the official language of the New Testament.
Most invited guests stand up in church and many will also stay outside and follow the service via the loudspeakers. In a Greek church, it is possible to move around and go in and out of the church during the service.
After the ceremony is finished, the couple goes out of church and rice is thrown at the newlyweds. (Click here to watch a video and see a lot of rice!)
After this, people then go to greet the couple as well as their direct family and wish them the typical Greek wishes.
After the ceremony, each guest receives a beautiful bomboniera, a decorated little bag with “koufeta”(sweet sugar almonds).
The bomboniera can also be given some days later, for example at your job or to friends that could not attend the wedding day.
The wedding party
The party usually takes place immediately after church in a tavern, restaurant, hotel, garden or fancy place.
Dinner is served and later the couple moves to the dance floor and starts an evening full of dances. In the old days, there was often a music group, playing traditional Greek music. Nowadays, in most weddings, there is a DJ, playing both traditional and modern music. The traditional music is often the music coming from the regions where the couple (or their parents) have their origin. As all Greeks, young and old, know most of the traditional songs, almost everybody is joining the circle dances.
At the church and at the party, but also before the wedding, typical wishes are used.
The most common Greek wishes concerning marriage are:
Before the wedding we wish to the intending spouses:
Η ώρα η καλή [I ora I kali] – “The time is good”
= may the time of the wedding be good and lucky.
To the newly married couple, we wish:
Να ζήσετε! [Na zisete] – May you live!
= To live together and enjoy.
Καλούς απογόνους! [Kalous apogonous] – “Good offspring!”
= May you have good children.
If you are not married and you find yourself on a wedding celebration, you will probably hear the wish:
Και στα δικά σου! [Kai sta dika sou] – “And to yours!”
= May we get together at your wedding!
Also the best man receives wishes:
Πάντα άξιος! [Panta aksios] – Always to have such achievements!
=when you achieve something important.
5. Useful Greek Vocabulary
The wedding = ο γάμος
The wedding day = η μέρα του γάμου
To live together = συζώ
The civil wedding = ο πολιτικός γάμος
The town hall = το δημαρχείο
To get married = παντρεύομαι
To marry someone (for best man/woman) = παντρεύω
The best man = ο κουμπάρος
The maid of honor = η κουμπάρα
The church = η εκκλησία
The wedding dress = το νυφικό
The suit = το κοστούμι
The wedding ring = η βέρα
The music = η μουσική
The couple = το ζευγάρι
The tradition = η παράδοση
The wish = η ευχή
The bride = η νύφη
The groom = ο γαμπρός
The family = η οικογένεια
The wine = το κρασί
The priest = ο παπάς/ ο ιερέας
The dance = ο χορός
The religion = η θρησκεία
PS. Do you also want to listen to a tradition Wedding Song? Then click here, and sing along with the Omilo Students 🙂