It’s all Greek to Me: A look into traditions and superstitions in the Greek Orthodox Wedding
Traditions and customs relating to Greek Orthodox weddings have remained mostly unchanged going back to ancient Greek times. Greek Orthodox wedding ceremonies are a Sacrament where, unlike in other religions, this has not been altered throughout the years. Greek wedding ceremonies are deep in rituals, symbolisms and prayers, which essentially allow the soon-to-be married couple to celebrate the core essence of marriage.
1. Local Wedding Traditions
Morning of the Wedding
a. Groom-The ‘koumparo’ or best man shaves the groom to signify the trust between the two men. Afterwards, close friends and family help dress the groom.
b. Bride- The ‘koumpara’ or maid of honour helps the bride to get dressed.
c. Shoes- The bride writes the names of all her single girlfriends on her shoe sole. Tradition/urban legend has it that the girls whose names are erased by the end of the wedding night will end up getting married before the other girls.
2. At the church
a. Bridal Walk – The bride’s father walks the bride to the church with the bride’s family and friends; all guests walk behind the father and bride, while musicians with mandolin/s, guitar and/or a violin accompany them at the front playing traditional wedding songs as they walk towards the church.
b. Groom – The groom, his family and friends wait for the bride to arrive at the church yard, holding the bride’s flower bouquet to offer it to the bride, after the father has presented the bride to the groom at the church entrance. The groom then takes the bride’s right hand and they walk together into the church and stand at the church altar (εικονοστάσι), with the groom on the right side.
a. Wedding Crowns (Stefana)- The Stefana are the focal point in Greek wedding ceremonies. The Stefana are joined by ribbon that symbolises the unity of the couple.
b. The priest places the Stefana and places on the bride and groom’s heads, blessing them in the name of the Holy Trinity. The ‘koumparos’ interchanges the crowns three times and is a witness to the sealing of the union.
c. Exchanging of rings – The priest chants a prayer three times on the wedding rings for both the bride and groom. The rings are then placed on the right ring finger of both the bride and groom. The Koumparos will interchange the rings three times placing the groom’s ring on the bride’s finger and vice versa. This action is equivalent to them saying “I do” in a Greek Orthodox wedding, given that neither the bride nor the groom speak, nor are any vows exchanged.
d. The Disko (tray) – The stefana (wedding crowns) are placed on the tray and covered with koufeta (sugared almonds) during the wedding ceremony. Tradition has it that, following the ceremony, all single ladies take a koufeta home with them and place it under their pillow, where during that night, they will dream of their future husbands.
e. Stepping on the Groom – At some point during the ceremony, the priest talks about the woman being respectful of the husband and it is a Greek tradition for the bride to step on the groom’s foot during the ceremony. The meaning behind this is if the bride steps on her Groom’s foot, she will have the upper hand during the marriage (gulp!).
f. To all grooms getting married to a Greek lady, prepare yourselves!!!
Rice throwing – Once the ceremony finishes, the newly-wed couple walks out of the church holding hands, where they are greeted by the wedding guests and rice is thrown at the couple to signify fertility, abundance and good luck.
4. Wedding Favours
Boubounieres (Koufeta or Jordan Almonds) -This is the most common wedding favour for guests. The almonds symbolise the couple’s good and bad times, with the hope that times will be more sweet than bitter for the couple. An odd number of almonds are given to each guest, to give reference to the couple’s indivisible power; that is, the couple cannot be divided. The most common number of almonds given are 5 to symbolise health, happiness, fertility, long life and wealth. In Kefalonia, it is also very common to include two red mandoles (red sugar-coated almonds) in boubounieres.
5. Greek Wedding Superstitions
a. Spitting on the couple: This is a very old Greek custom and still occurs to this day. Guests pretend to spit on the happy couple to protect them from any evil spirits on their big day!
b. Brides: It is considered bad luck for a bride dressed in her wedding gown to see another bride in her wedding gown.
c. Rain: Rain on your wedding day is considered good luck, as the rain makes the land fertile, implying that the couple will have many children together.
d. If Stefana or wedding rings fall during the ceremony it’s considered bad luck.
e. Leap year: for as long as I can remember, superstitious beliefs have it that weddings that take place in leap years are destined to fail; so I would seriously advise you to reconsider your leap year plans (unless of course the bride/groom gets cold feet in the meantime!).
6. Greek Wedding Terminology
a. Koumparos: best man who becomes ‘part of family’ for life
b. Koumpara: maid of honour who becomes ‘part of family’ for life
c. Boubounieres: Wedding Favours
d. Koufeta: Sugared Almonds
e. Stefana: Wedding crowns
f. Disko: Tray where the stefana (wedding crowns), rings and koufeta (sugared almonds) are placed