Today in Athens, Laoura Lalaounis Makropoulou (the daughter of my Greek publisher, Aikaterini Lalaouni) marries the love of her life, Yiannis Dragnis. Na zesete!
In honor of their wedding day, I thought I’d take you to a Greek wedding. But our invitation is for one on Mykonos, where traditions are somewhat different than in Athens. But you’ll get the general idea, and no matter where a Greek wedding is held I can assure you the party is always a blast.
Traditionally when two Mykonians marry, several hours before the service the bride and groom go to their respective parents’ homes to gather with family and friends who’ve come to help prepare them for the big day. Amid a lot of singing, drinking, and nuts (meant to be the edible kind, symbolizing fertility) the party begins.
The groom, accompanied by an entourage including musicians, arrives at the church first, to cool his heels waiting for his bride to show. Tradition always has her arriving late—possibly to give her groom a chance to sober up.
The bride and her family also arrive with musicians, generally playing a santouri dulcimer and an accordion or two. They stop in front of the groom as the bride’s parents turn their daughter over to her soon-to-be husband. Then it’s on to the ceremony.
All organized faiths offer more than simply words when asking souls to exchange lifetime vows; centuries-old symbols and rituals are employed to impress upon the couple the seriousness of their commitment.
Symbolic of all Greek Orthodox weddings are a bible, almonds, wine cup and decanter, and two stefana—bridal crowns of starched white leather, orange blossoms and ivy joined together by a single silver ribbon (or a variation thereof)—all on a small table.
And everyone attending a Greek wedding has some traditional part to play.
The priest reads from the wedding service as he performs the expected traditional rites, such as touching the wedding bands, and later the stefana, three times to the foreheads of the bride and room.
The koumbarous and koumbara, honors akin to, but far more significant than, best man and bridesmaid, are charged with switching wedding bands three times from the couple’s left ring fingers—where worn when engaged—to their right where worn when married, and with holding the stefana above the couple’s heads waiting for the moment to switch them three times between bride and groom.
The bride has the most whimsical, and some say “instructive,” tradition. Near the end of the service the priest reads, “The wife shall fear her husband,” at which point the bride brings to life the expression, “It’s time to put your foot down,” by stepping on her man’s foot to the great joy and cheers of all, especially chiropodists.
The guests play their parts after the couple drinks three times from the common cup and begin their ceremonial first steps together as husband and wife. The bride, groom, koumbaroi, and priest circle the small table three times amid a barrage of rice and, in Mykonos tradition, powerful whacks to the groom’s back by his buddies.
Then its time for greetings of “kalo riziko,” “na zesete,” and “vion anthosparton” wishing the couple a marriage of “good roots,” “long life,” and “full of flowers,” and off to the party venue. The only ones who don’t head straight to the party are the bride and groom. They stop at their new home to change clothes.
By the way, don’t worry if your name isn’t on the guest list, because as long as you’re with an invited guest you’re in. That sort of thing is expected at a Greek wedding where there’s always more than enough food, drink, and room for one more.
There’s also music playing while the guests wait for the bride and groom to arrive, and as soon as they do, the tune switches to one that lets everyone know the couple is here. Amid a roar of applause and shouts of good wishes, they make their way through a phalanx of hugs and kisses to the dance floor.
With a nod of the bride’s head, the band begins playing the ballos, the traditional six-step dance of the Cycladic islands, one of the most beautiful to watch, and the first done at any true Mykonian wedding. Once they are dancing the party is officially underway, and the couple is joined in sequence by their parents, koumbaroi, immediate family, and guests until a full line of partiers is dancing in the syrto style that symbolizes the essence of Greek life to so much of the world. Later will come the kalamatiano, arguably Greece’s most popular dance and one played at every Greek wedding.
I will not mention the food. Just think enormous…and triple your thought.
Tonight is a time to let loose and worry about nothing more than passing out before the last guest departs, which will be long after the cake cutting and fireworks display. And don’t worry about having to find your way home in the dark. The sun will be up by then.
Vion anthosparton, Mr. and Mrs. Dragnis!