Monday, June 16, 2014

Across the Board: Greek Wedding Traditions (Part 2), The Reception and Beyond

...Continued from Part 1
Did you read about the basics of a Greek Wedding, the traditions of getting ready and the ceremony customs? If not, click here, then read on in this post for fun details about the Reception!! I worked at a Greek wedding last night, and was so fascinated to see all of the things I've been reading come to life at this beautiful venue, for this beautiful couple. Oh and by the way, they had a HUGE wedding party- about 20 people- including 2 flower girls and 2 ring bearers, so customs do change over time and space. When it was time for introductions, they introduced all of these people, plus parents, plus the bride and groom, went in for the first dance, then had FOUR toasts and a blessing before salads came out. Whew! What a start to a great celebration!

During the ceremony, there was so much deep symbolism and history, and the reception is no different. Here are some of the components of the party part of this celebration:

Bread- Bread appears on every table in Greece at almost every meal. It has a ritualistic place on the table on feast days, so it's important at weddings and celebrations as well. There are certain breads for different holidays throughout the year, including New Years, Easter and Christmas, and there may be a special bread chosen for the wedding.

Food- A wedding in Greece is full of traditional Greek foods, and many Greek descendants around the world have carried a love for these foods with them, so you will likely see some/all of these at a Greek wedding. A hot, dry climate sets the tone for the Greek menu, which relies heavily on fresh food and seafood. Fishermen catch and provide sustenance from the Mediterranean. Farmers cultivate lemons, eggplant, artichokes and other fresh fruits and vegetables, and many ruminant animals provide mouthwatering lamb, pork and chicken dishes, as well as the ingredients for cheese and fresh, thick Greek yogurt. The most important food in Greece may be the olive, and olive oil makes an appearance in almost every dish. One popular, vegetable-laden dish is the eggplant-based moussaka. 
  At Cocktail Hour, you may see a selection of bite-sized appetizers -- known collectively as mezé -- often grouped together on a platter so that people can share and enjoy them. A mezethakia platter usually offers a variety of tastes, textures and colors and includes items such as cheese, radishes, almonds, figs, anchovies, capers and marinated olives. Also, perhaps the most popular Greek snack (kolatsio) is the gyro, a pita sandwich made of seasoned meat, salad and tzatziki sauce, a blend of yogurt, cucumber and garlic. Spanakopita, a spinach and cheese pie, is another well-known example of kolatsio, as well as tiropita, a similar treat without the spinach and with a few kinds of cheese inside. 

   To satisfy a sweet tooth, Greeks layer nuts and honey into thin sheets of phyllo dough to make sweet snacks called baklava. Greeks often end a meal with fresh fruit, but they do enjoy pastries as snacks. Many Greek sweets are doused in honey, a throwback to the ancient gods' love of ambrosia and nectar. Though mortals weren't allowed to eat those two items, honey served as a most welcome substitute. Honey-drenched doughnuts called loukoumades are just one of Greece's favorite sweets.

Check out these Greek-inspired wedding cakes!

Drink- Greek people so enjoy each other's company that they look for an excuse, in the form of a drinkable liquid, to linger at the table and spend more time together. This may come in the form of coffee or a bit of ouzo- an anise-flavored spirit distilled from grapes, figs or raisins and blended with spices and sugar. Yum! 

Dance-  and I mean dance! The Greek people love a celebration, and they love to dance. In fact, ancient Greeks believed that music nurtures man's relationship with the gods. Long ago, Plato & Aristotle were supporters and proponents of music education and felt that it was very important to the development of their younger generations. Today, dancing is key to a Greek celebration, and especially a wedding! 

A traditional Greek band is a staple at any Greek festival or wedding. These bands include instruments Western audiences are familiar with, such as the clarinet, violin and guitar, but they also incorporate traditional Greek instruments, including the guitar-like bouzouki, the bagpipe known as a gaida, and the toumbi drum. With their unique sound, Greek musicians entice revelers to dance traditional circle dances and line dances throughout the night. Unlike Jewish weddings in America, where we typically do the hora one time and then move on to more popular, well-known music for the remainder of the night, I was surprised and amazed to see that the Greek people enjoy Greek music throughout the night, and do many more Greek dances as the party goes on. In America today, they may tie in a few non-Greek songs here and there to incorporate the current culture of their lives, but the wedding I worked last night had multiple dances with everybody, and then a few with just the guys, just the girls, just the older generation of ladies, and so on. So many different dances and songs, it was so cool! 

The Newlywed Dance (AKA the Money Dance)- This dance is performed about halfway through the night in Greece by the newlyweds to honor their guests. It is also a chance for their guests while the couple is dancing to pin money on them or throw money in their direction as a gift. This money is known to either be put toward the band for the night (more commonly), or toward the couple's new life together. Throughout the night, many guests will throw money in the bride and groom's direction, or toward the parents, siblings and young children on the dance floor. The band may collect it as the night goes on or at the end of the party (typically, a broom and dustpan is the best way to do this). In preparation, guests may bring many $1 bills along. I even saw that a guest had the paper belt from a pack of 100 $1 bills on the table at the end of the night and would guess that there was at least $2,000 on the floor. 

Syrtos Dancing- One example of Greek dancing in which the dancers hold hands in a circle, moving counter-clockwise. The lead dancer is the one at the right end of the line and may be connected to the person next to him by holding a handkerchief or scarf between them- this allows him to dance more elaborately and twirl without letting go of the dancing line. The Syrtos dance is slower than its counterpart, the Kalamatianós.

Kalamatianós Dancing- Another common dance, the dancers hold hands in a circle and twirl counter-clockwise for 10 steps, then switch to a clockwise direction for 2 steps. The stepping may lead to jumping or squatting as the dance continues (if the dancers are able!) and the lead dancer again holds a handkerchief as in the Syrtos dance.

The Whiskey Dance- Sometimes at a Greek wedding, some of the gentlemen will dance around a few bottles of whiskey and full shot glasses on the floor, drinking the shots and managing not to knock over the bottles. If they're skilled enough (and can handle their liquor), they may even take the shot without using their hands. Check it out here:

Throwing of the Bouquet & Garter- This tradition has been passed on from other cultures. At the end of the evening, all single girls gather on the dance floor. The bride, at a fair distance from them with her back turned to them, throws her bouquet in the air at random. The girl who caches the bouquet is known to be the next to be married. Similarly, the groom ‘crawls’ under the bride's skirt, removes the garter from the bride’s leg with his mouth and then throws it to the single men, who are also gathered at a distance on the dance floor. The man who catches it is the next one to be married.

Plate smashing- This traditional Greek folk custom involving the throwing and breaking of plates or glasses during celebratory occasions is no longer the stereotypical practice that it seems to foreigners. In fact, it happens very rarely in Greece today because it is considered a dangerous practice and was even outlawed in the taverns of Greece in 1969. When it does happen, the establishment has obtained a license and/or the hosts have often purchased less expensive, more easily breakable plaster plates for the occasion.  It does continue to be seen on certain occasions in Greece, such as weddings, and around the world at Greek-themed venues and restaurants. Some restaurants even cater to the urge to break plates by having a special designated breaking area, but be careful if you go to one- they will charge you for the plates you break! 

Where did this custom come from? The practice is said to have begun in ancient Greece, and may have brought about kefi, which translates to good spirits and fun. Some believe that it can ward off evil spirits or bring good luck, and some have historically shown their appreciation for a band that's accompanying their revelry by smashing plates at their feet (today, they throw flowers instead).  It may derive from an ancient practice of ritually "killing" plates on mourning occasions, as a means of dealing with loss, or it may be related to the ancient practice of conspicuous consumption, a display of one's wealth, as plates or glasses are thrown into a fireplace following a banquet instead of being washed and reused (very uncommon today). 

A plate might also be broken when two lovers parted, so that they would be able to recognize each other by matching the two halves even if many years passed before they met again. Small split versions of the mysterious Phaistos disk are used by modern Greek jewelers this way, with one half kept and worn by each of the couple.

Shouting "Opa!"- The actual meaning of "Opa!" is more like "Oops" or "Whoops!" Among Greeks, you might hear it after someone bumps into something or drops or breaks an object. Because of this, you may also hear it during the now-rare breaking of plates in Greek restaurants and nightclubs as a sound of praise for the singers, dancers, or other performers. This may actually be where it got its extra meaning as a sound of praise - originally used after the breakage occurred, and then becoming associated with the act of praising the performers. Now it is used as an exclamation, a call for attention or an invitation to join in a circle dance. 

Tips if you're attending a Greek wedding- My best advice is to eat a good meal in the morning (the ceremony is pretty long, and you'll eat a lot at night, but maybe not for many hours), bring a modest gift (money is always the best gift at the wedding itself), a lot of cash to throw, an appetite (for the reception) and comfortable dancing shoes.
   When deciding upon your outfit, consider that in church, women are expected to wear skirts (or dresses) and stockings. You can't show too much skin and need to cover your shoulders. You can't look like you're going to a night club, but at the same time, you don't want to look too corporate. You don't want to wear something that you've already worn to another big event like a wedding or christening. Check out this post on's blog for 10 tips to prepare for a Greek church ceremony.

After the Wedding- 
I read an interview online with a bride who had gotten married in Crete. When asked what they did after the wedding, she replied, "What every couple does after the wedding--We took our guests to a restaurant/club and danced all night...and of course there was lots of drinking and eating! We had the time of our lives"! I don't know if this is typical of all Greek weddings, but it's something a little bit different to think about.  Remember, in Italian weddings, the party goes on all night until guests can't eat or dance any more.

Wedding Attire- 
Bride's dress- The image that comes to mind is a bride who looks almost like a Greek statue, a muse, a beautiful goddess.  This is a combination of historical knowledge, popular culture and marketing on the part of clothing companies. The truth is that the footprint of the Greek wedding dress style can be easily distinguished through the unique and simple cut of the gown that manages to preserve the femininity of the woman. Sometimes, it's a straight sheath style, possibly on one shoulder, maybe with a rope-like fabric tied in or around. Sometimes it's not- that's up to the bride. Interestingly, the silhouette of Greek wedding dresses drapes beautifully, hides any figure flaws, and gives a very statuesque, elegant look, which is why it has been trending worldwide for years and. After all, it is a "fashion trend" that has stood the test of time beautifully.

Bride's shoes- It is believed that if a bride writes her single friends' names on the bottom of her shoes, the first to wear off is the next to be married. Also, she buys her shoes a bit big so that they will have the best 'fit' when money is used to cushion her feet for the day.

Hair & Jewelry- Greek women often have long, dark beautiful hair and may have it done up or down with curls, braids, silver/gold leaves, and even floral or sparkly hairpieces and bands.  Again, this is a matter of preference, but I saw some gorgeous hairstyles yesterday, right down to the flower girl(s). As far as jewelry goes, the Greek bride has, since ancient times, dazzled in elaborate jewelry on her wedding day as it is a very significant moment in her life.  Ancient Greeks believed that the diamond reflected the flame of love, and thought of them to be the teardrops of the gods. Today's brides still hold the same belief that the wedding and marriage are sacred, they are to share the bond of marriage with someone whom they love, and they might as well dazzle in the process!

A Sweet Superstition- It is thought that is the bride hides a lump of sugar in her bra or her glove, she will be sure of a sweet life.

Italian-Greek Similarities- Given the close proximity of Italy and Greece, it makes sense that there are so many similarities between the two cultures' wedding traditions.  In addition to those already mentioned, to ward off evil, the groom may hide a piece of iron in his pocket. Sometimes, to save money toward the honeymoon, the Groom's tie is cut into many pieces and sold at the reception.

Mothers of the Bride & Groom- Gold is a very common accent color at Greek weddings, and may be the color that the mothers choose to wear.

Covering Your Shoulders- As in Jewish weddings, it is often frowned upon or unacceptable to show your shoulders in a place of worship, so if a bride falls in love with a strapless gown, she may need to find a shawl or a bolero.

Groom- These days, the groom is often dressed in a suit or tuxedo and tie. In the past, he may have worn a sort of kilt-like skirt as demonstrated by these traditional Greek dancers (who are sometimes hired for wedding and event entertainment). He may be adorned with a flower, have a piece of iron in his pocket, have a smile on his face and loving pride in his heart. Oh, and he might decide to wear cool sunglasses like these for the entrance to the reception!

Once again, Greek weddings are steeped in tradition, love, music, dance, food and fun! Last night, the bride's mom brought along 6 big trays of homemade Greek cookies and they provided containers so that guests could take some home. Amazing :) A lot of love went into that, and you could feel it in the air <3

1 comment:

  1. Really beautiful and charming moment capture in the memorable time that’s called great wedding ceremony.Thanks and keep Sharing..

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