My Big Fat Greek Wedding brought comedic light to the traditional Greek wedding. Of course, some of it was a bit more dramatic than a “real life” Greek wedding, but the roots are the same. Traditionally, Greek weddings are full of family, food, and fun. Here’s a look at what you’ll find at a typical Greek wedding.
1. The Dances: Sirtaki, Zeibekikio, and Dollar Dance
One of my best friends married her Greek husband last year. She comes from a large Italian family, so I knew this wedding would be an event filled with lots of family and crazy antics, but I had no idea the traditions would start at the rehearsal dinner. At the dinner, the family and best friends of the groom suddenly got up and began to dance in a circle with their hands on each other’s shoulders. I was told this was called the Sirtaki dance, made famous by the 1964 movie Zorba the Greek. The traditional dancing didn’t stop there, though. The groom and his best buddies hit the floor with the Zeibekiko at the wedding reception. They danced in a circle, kneeling and clapping around the groom as he showed off his dance moves. One of the most popular dances for any wedding was actually brought to America from Greece: the dollar dance. Guests can “pay” to dance with the bride or groom, or even toss money on the floor for good luck.
2. The Stefana Marital Crowns
The marital crowns, or stefana, make the bride and groom feel even more like royalty. The stefana symbolizes that the couple are now the king and queen of their own castle, their home. These crowns are usually made from flowers or sometimes precious metals. They are joined together with a simple ribbon and passed between the couple three times before they can be placed on their heads. The priest or the sponsors of the wedding pass the stefana between the couple.
3. Sponsors of the Wedding: The Koumbara and Koumbaro
The sponsors of the wedding are a very important Greek tradition. The Koumbara, which is pretty much the maid of honor, and the Koumbaro, the best man, are chosen to represent the couple and perform special duties at the wedding. If a couple is getting married in the Greek Orthodox Church, the sponsors must be in good standing with the church. Traditionally, either the priest or one of the sponsors performs the exchange of the stefana as well as the ring exchange during the ceremony. My friend insisted that her sister, who is Catholic, would be the Koumbara, and her fiancé chose his brother as the Koumbaro. These two are also the godparents of their first child.
4. Traditions Uniting the Couple Under God
Some traditions at Greek weddings involve Christianity. A common cup is filled with wine, and the bride and groom each sip from this cup three times, symbolizing their new united life under God. During the ceremony, many couples also hold candles representing the light of Christ. The rule is that these candles can never be thrown away. They can be completely burned, but never thrown out until the wax is completely melted.
5. Lots of Family
One Greek tradition that parallels My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the presence of a big family at the wedding celebrations. The Greek wedding I attended a few months ago was stuffed with family. There were so many loud, funny people that I got lost in the crowd! They were happy, dancing, and hugging everyone. Greeks love a big gathering. I had a blast watching the old and young people in the Greek family come together and celebrate the couple.
6. Making the Bed
This tradition might sound a little strange because it begins with having loved ones gather around your future marital bed, but “making the bed” is one of the most popular Greek wedding traditions. The bride’s friends who are not married literally make the bed, and then everyone gathers around it to throw gifts. This can be everything from rice and flower petals to money and jewels. At the end of this tradition, a male or female young child is usually sat across the bed for luck in fertility. Some say the gender of this child will predict the gender of the couple’s first child!
7. Candy Coated Almonds
In the middle of the tables at the reception sat some Jordan almonds in a beautiful little bag. I wondered why they wanted us to snack on these almonds before the meal. Come to find out, Jordan almonds, or any candy-coated almonds, traditionally have been a Greek wedding snack for thousands of years! The tradition, called bombonieria, represents the rollercoaster of life. The salty yet sweet treat helps couples remember there will be more sweet than sour in life. It’s also tradition that an odd number of almonds are given in each bag. Each one symbolizes what the coupld wants in their life when it comes to fertility, health, happiness, wealth, and prosperity. It doesn’t hurt that they taste so yummy, either!