Wedding traditions add a fascinating heartwarming cultural touch to all types of ceremonies, from DIY weddings to glamorous, chic and stylish ones, and help the couple go through the wedding procedure in a structured, familiar and therefore relaxing way. Let’s see the most original of these traditions as I have captured them through my camera lens. All traditions are listed in chronological order, from the pre-wedding preparations to the sacrament of matrimony to the wedding reception. Here we go then!
Many of you may have seen or witnessed a Greek wedding ceremony. The couple, in appropriate wedding attire, enters an Orthodox church and reverently exchanges vows of love and devotion before a priest. But what happens backstage? Why does the perfectly made bridal bed have to be unmade three times shortly before the wedding? Why do the bride and the groom drink from the same cup during the ceremony? When exactly does this happen and what does it symbolize for the new couple?
1. The Custom of Dowry
First of all, it should be pointed out that in older times the new couple’s prosperity and economic independence was a primary concern for their families. Parents, wishing to ensure a comfortable and prosperous life for the couple, discussed, bargained and agreed on the dowry before the wedding. Traditionally, a dowry included land, money, even animals. The dowry chest also included splendid handicrafts, such as handmade carpets and fine embroideries, which the bride used to exhibit in her family house for everybody who came to wish her well to admire. In the end, the dowry, along with all the wedding presents, was carried to the couple’s future home by carriage, truck or horses.
Nowadays this custom tends to become extinct. When shooting ethnic weddings, however, I often notice various handmade gifts, such as oriental carpets and vintage objects in the houses of the newlyweds. Like those in the following photo. That’s a kind of dowry too, isn’t it? And a very artistic one, for that matter!
2. Shaving the Groom
The groom’s friends are his buddies, who are always by his side. Do you think they would leave him alone on the most beautiful day of his life? No way!
Another Greek wedding tradition involves… shaving the groom. Yes, that’s right. The groom’s friends assist him in his pre-wedding preparations, shaving him and helping him get dressed.
I always have a great time at the pre-wedding photoshoots with the groom and his friends. I just love the classical shot of the groom posing proudly among his smiling groomsmen, all in their elegant suits or tuxedos. Such spontaneous, carefree moments captured by the camera will be treasured forever. What’s better than this?
3. The Bridal Shoes
While the groom is getting ready, another interesting custom takes place at the house of the bride. Shortly before she leaves for the church, the groom’s friends and his best man come to visit her and offer to help her… put her shoes on. The bride, playing along with their game, pretends they are too big. Then the men fill her shoes with money and wish her a happy married life. In the end, it is the bride’s father who helps her put on the right shoe
Another cute tradition linked with bridal shoes has to do with single girls. Shortly before the ceremony, the bride writes carefully on the soles of her shoes her friends’ names one by one. The lucky girls whose names are deleted at the end of the day are supposed to be the next ones to get married!
Do you see then how important bridal shoes are? So, choose the most elegant and chic pair of shoes for the most beautiful day of your life!
4. The Bridal Bed Tradition
This is a custom still followed quite often in destination weddings in Greece. Friends and relatives gather around the bridal bed and throw on it money, Jordan almonds and rice that symbolize the couple’s future happiness and prosperity. The white bedsheets also have a special significance: they symbolize honesty and sincerity between the spouses. In older times, relatives used to put babies on the bridal bed as well, to wish the couple fertility and a big family.
My favorite moment is when the groom enters the bridal room and unmakes the bed three times. This is a rather rare custom that has fortunately survived and is kept even today, mainly in the Cycladic islands. I have been told that it means that all difficulties in the couple’s life will be overcome with patience and perseverance.
The classical photo of the bridal bed with sugared almonds and rice scattered all over the sparkling white bedsheets should never be missing from a wedding album!
5. The Groom’s Journey to the Church
In the old days, according to custom, the groom made his way to the church accompanied by musicians playing local traditional musical instruments. So, in Epirus they played the folk clarinet, in Crete the Cretan lyra, in Corfu the violin. Relatives and friends danced around the groom, singing cheerful traditional songs.
This custom is no longer kept in most modern and elegant weddings. But I sometimes happen to shoot weddings with ethnic elements, in which music plays a vital part. This was the case in Alex and Ziad’s wedding in Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades. Ziad, the groom from the Middle East, wished to incorporate into the wedding as much of his Arabic heritage as possible, so he had arranged a zaffe drum procession, a dabke dance team and lots of singing and clapping! It was a wonderful day full of amazing oriental music, from the pre-wedding preparations to the wedding reception. The photo below speaks for itself, I think!
6. The Bride’s Late Arrival
In the past the bride used to go to church in a richly decorated horse-drawn carriage. Today brides arrive in luxury cars specially decorated for the occasion. Whatever the means of transport, the bride must pass outside the church three or four times before she finally goes up the stairs, for she is supposed to make the groom wait!
All this time the guests cheer the bride and have the chance to catch glimpses of her until she eventually gets off the car and walks to the groom, who is waiting for her with a bouquet of flowers in his hands.
Many couples choose classic cars for their wedding day, like the couple of the picture, who tied the knot in Oia. In the next photo you can see a “portrait” of the car itself, against a breathtaking backdrop: the famous volcano of Santorini!
What about you? Have you chosen the dream wedding “carriage” that will take you to your prince charming?
7. Entrance to the Church
As soon as the bride arrives, she enters the church with the groom. From now on everything has a deeper symbolical and sacramental meaning.
The spouses-to-be approach the altar or Holy Table, where the wedding crowns, the wine and the wedding rings have already been placed. This is one of the holiest and most defining moments in their lives.
The couple is surrounded by loving people –parents, siblings, bridesmaids, the best man and all their friends. However, only three people stand in the centre of the church, in front of the Beautiful Gate of the temple: the couple and the priest. This number, number 3, has great symbolic value, as it represents the Holy Trinity, that’s why many of the rituals of the wedding ceremony are repeated three times.
The man and the woman are now joined in everlasting love and “they shall be one flesh”.
8. The Man’s Love for the Woman
Inside the church and all around the couple there are richly colored religious icons depicting Christ, the Virgin Mary, saints and angels. Each and every one of them inspires patience, devotion and love for the fellow man and God – some of the standards the new couple should live by.
The woman stands on the left of the man, in front of the icon of Virgin Mary, while the man stands in front of the icon of Jesus Christ. They both stand before the Holy Bema, the elevated part of Orthodox churches which is considered to be the gateway to Heaven and eternity. The Greek word for spouses is «σύζυγοι», which means “those who are under the same yoke”.
This indicates that the couple will walk together on the path of life, both in happiness and in difficulties, with mutual understanding, honesty and love.
My favorite quote is one of Paul the Apostle: “A husband must love his wife as Christ loved the Church”. These timeless words of wisdom remind us that even in hard times in life «love always hopes, always perseveres», as the Apostle says.
9. The Service of the Betrothal (Engagement)
The service of the betrothal precedes the exchange of wedding crowns. The rings are blessed by the priest and then exchanged on the fingers of the bride and groom three times by the best man, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The wedding ring symbolizes the loving union of two people and the respect between them. It is also a promise that this union will last forever, as its shape denotes something eternal, with no beginning and no end.
It is the piece of jewelry that holds the greatest sentimental value for the bride, a childhood dream that becomes a reality. Traditionally, the spouses’ names and the date of the wedding are engraved on the inside of the rings.
The service of the betrothal is a promise of marriage and the prelude to the wedding ceremony that will now follow.
10. The Wedding Crowns
What follows next is the most beautiful and moving part of an Orthodox wedding. The priest joins the hands of the bride and the groom, in a gesture that symbolizes the beginning of a common life blessed by God.
Next comes the crowning. The priest puts the crowns (“stefana”) on the couple’s heads as if crowning a king and a queen, for their home will indeed be a kingdom where love, peace and justice will prevail.
Making the sign of the cross on their heads, the priest silently wishes them a life of love, purity and wisdom. Right after the end of the ceremony, he ties the ribbons of the wedding crowns together. This is another symbolism denoting the eternal “bonding” of the couple in life.
One of the most classic wedding photos is that of the newlyweds wearing their wedding crowns.
11. The Common Cup
Another Greek wedding tradition involves a cup filled with nama, a very sweet red wine used exclusively in Mass. The wine is blessed by the celebrant and offered to the now wedded husband and wife.
They each drink from it three times in a symbolic ritual meaning that from now on they will share everything in their common life. Whatever wine is left in the cup must be drunk by the koumbaros (best man) or koumbara (best woman, the equivalent of the maid of honor) after the end of the ceremony.
12. The Dance of Isaiah (Ceremonial Walk)
This is no real dance, of course. It is rather a triumphant walk of the couple led by the priest around the holy table three times, as an expression of joy and gratitude to God. The best man too participates in this triple procession, during which three special hymns are sung. And if you wonder why it is called “the dance of Isaiah”, the answer is simple: the first of these hymns starts with the verse, “Oh, Isaiah, dance for joy!”
It is a true blessing to witness such unique fascinating moments, the joy of the couple for starting a new chapter in their life, the palpable love of all those around them in the air, and the holiness of the atmosphere, and be able to capture them on film.
13. The Conclusion of the Wedding Ceremony
After the ceremonial walk, the priest leads the couple before the Holy Bema. He reads wishes to them and, with the help of the Gospel, “frees” their joined hands.
He then removes their wedding crowns and wishes they are kept clean and pure forever.
The couple and the best man kiss the holy Gospel and then the priest personally wishes the couple a happy life together. Then it is the turn of the couple’s parents to come over and wish them; first they kiss the wedding crowns and then the newlyweds.
Now the wedding is over at last and guests can line up to congratulate the newlyweds and wish them a long and happy life together.
What is next? The classic wedding photos, with the couple in the centre and the parents on either side, of course!
14. The Jordan Almonds
Wedding favors are a sweet wedding custom shared in many cultures worldwide! They are small trinket boxes or satin or tulle bags full of sugar coated almonds, reminding of an Early Christianity tradition, according to which the newlyweds ate honey coated almonds right after the end of the wedding ceremony.
In Greece too, after the completion of the ceremony every guest is given a wedding favor.
You must have seen this scene in dozens of films. I assure you that it is equally enjoyable in real life! And it is a must-have photo for your wedding album!
16. Wedding Dances
There is no wedding without music and dancing in Greece!
Whatever kind of music you choose for your wedding reception, from traditional lute to electronic music, one thing is certain: you are bound to dance your heart out –and so are your guests!
Wedding receptions in Greece are more or less the same: the guests dance all together in a big circle holding hands. Folk songs, zeibekiko and sirtaki with the steps of Zorba make the wedding party an unforgettable event. There is no limit to the possible choices of music, which can involve anything, from r’n’b and pop to traditional music.
And there is no doubt that the bride will be the star of the party and all eyes will be on her as she dances on the dance floor!
And speaking of dancing, I would like to mention another Greek wedding tradition kept to this day in many villages in Epirus and various islands. Throughout the party, while the bride is dancing, the guests pin money on her wedding dress… Nice custom, don’t you agree?
The wedding party reflects all the happiness of the couple and their guests.
Bonus: Flower Girls and Pageboys
Flower girls and pageboys have their own important role in weddings. Their young age symbolizes fertility and purity for the couple joined in holy matrimony.
In conclusion, Greek weddings are a beautiful tapestry of rich cultural traditions, joy, and love. As a wedding photographer, I am truly honored to capture these cherished moments, preserving the essence of these age-old customs for generations to come. Each Greek wedding I photograph is a unique and memorable experience, filled with vibrant colors, lively music, and heartfelt emotions. It’s not just about documenting the event; it’s about telling the story of two families coming together, united by love, and It fills my heart with immense joy and gratitude to be entrusted with the responsibility of capturing the beautiful tapestry of love, laughter, and timeless traditions that make up each enchanting Greek wedding!