GREEK WEDDING TRADITIONS
Observed by an English Destination Wedding Photographer
During my time as a wedding photographer I’ve had the privilege of photographing weddings all over the world, I feel blessed to be invited into people’s lives and have a front-row seat to witness personal and intermit moments. I consider myself a photographer who is fascinated by people and human interaction so it was a tremendous pleasure when I was commissioned to photograph my first Greek Orthodox wedding where I got to witness the true beauty and energy of Greek Wedding Traditions first hand…
GREEK ORTHODOX WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY
One of my favourite wedding photography experience was being commissioned to photograph my first ever Greek Orthodox Wedding at the magnificent Church of Saint Lazarus, which a late-9th-century church in Larnaca, Cyprus. This story begins with Yiota (the bride, who lives in Cyprus) looking for a wedding photographer on the internet, she came across my work and fell in love with an image from a destination wedding that I’d taken the year before in Paphos, however at first it didn’t make sense for Yiota and Paul to fly an English wedding photographer (based in Liverpool, UK) out to Cyprus to photography their Orthodox wedding in Larnaca.
Over a six month period from our initial contact, Yiota interviewed other wedding photographers but lucky for me she just couldn’t get my work out of her head, no other wedding photographers work, in her words – “gave her goosebumps.”
Yiota’s main concern was that I didn’t know the important Greek Orthodox traditions, however, I explained that I would photograph the wedding in a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary style, so if it happened, I would with much eagerness be photographing it. Due to trust and freedom they gave me, the results are a stunning collection of images that showcase sincere love, together with the people and locations of Larnaca.
I love all aspects of the Greek wedding traditions from Yiota and Paul’s wedding, from the energy of the “Dressing The Bride” which is one of the most fun aspects of Greek wedding traditions to the iconic ‘Wearing of the crowns.’
When I started photographing weddings I didn’t anticipate the journey it would take me on or the wonderful people, places and cultures I would encounter. Yiota and Paul’s wedding is so special to me for many reasons but I have to say that I am very humbled and grateful that my work somehow connected with someone from a totally different country, from a different religion and who spoke a different language! I guess, “Images speak louder than words!”
DRESSING THE COUPLE | Greek wedding traditions
The best man, or koumbaro, will shave the groom on the morning of the ceremony to signify trust before close friends step in to help to dress him. In the ladies’ camp, the maid of honour, or koumbara, leads the friends to help to get the bride dressed and ready for the ceremony. Often and as with Yiota, this is a big celebration! with the Brides family ‘opening up the family home’ to friends and neighbours to join the celebrations. Live music is played and traditional Greek wedding food is served. As you can see from the photos it makes for a fun, lively and energetic start to the wedding day and it was a real treat to experience.
*Often, they will write the names of all of the single ladies on the bottom of the bride’s shoes and tradition has it that the names that are worn off by the end of the reception will soon get married.
THE ROLE OF KOUMPAROS / THE KOUMPARA
The Koumparos is the couple’s best man (the Koumpara refers to a woman and is pretty much like the bride’s maid of honour only with more responsibilities!) and plays a vital role in the ceremony.
I believe that the Koumparos or Koumpara plays a much more vital role during Greek wedding traditions than the British/American Best Man and Maid of Honor. The Koumparos in Greece is the “sponsor” of the marriage, and has a very special role in the ceremony, performing rituals. Also, the koumparos and koumpara are both blessed with the honour of becoming the couple’s firstborn child’s godparents.
The Koumparos Pays for the Bride’s Wedding Shoe to Fit!
Often the koumparos or the Koumpara visits the bride’s house the day of the wedding to help escort her to church. But, the doors are shut! There are many traditions around his visit. For example, he may have to bring a fried chicken all fancily decorated and adorned in exchange to enter the house! Then, he must help the bride put her shoes on. At this point, the bride always pretends the shoes don’t fit her as they are too large! Then, the koumparos places money to make her feet slide in until the happy bride-to-be says she is comfortable in her wedding shoes! This “show” could continue with other men in the home, such as the bride’s father, who may also try his luck and see if he can make that shoe fit!
Symbols of good luck | Greek Wedding Traditions
If a bride is wearing gloves, placing a lump of sugar inside one of them is said to ensure a sweet life and adding a gold coin to the inside of her shoe will bring good financial fortune. If the groom has a piece of iron in his pocket, this will ward off evil spirits throughout the day.
Dressing The Bride
The energy and love in the room during ‘The Dressing Of The Bride” on Yiota’s wedding day was amazing and one of the best wedding experiences I’ve ever had. It was an absolute pleasure and a joy to experience the energy in the room, which I think you can actually feel in the below images.
THE FLOWERS | Greek Wedding Traditions
One of the main differences I found in Greek wedding traditions was the presenting of the Brides flowers by the Groom. Unlike other religious ceremonies such as Christian weddings, the groom, his family and other guests wait at the church’s yard for the bride and her family to arrive. Then, the bride’s father or brother escorts her and hands her over to the groom OUTSIDE the church’s entrance. It’s custom for the Groom to have brought a bouquet for his bride, which he presents to her as her parents give her away before they walk the aisle to the priest.
Yiota and Paul’s wedding ceremony was held at the famous Church of Saint Lazarus in the heart of Larnaca in Cyprus. This part of the wedding was one of the most important Greek Wedding Traditions Yiota wanted me to capture, however, I photographed the ‘action’ has it happened and after the wedding Yiota, the Bride said to me;
“I was worried you wouldn’t capture the traditional Greek wedding aspects of the day and some of them would be lost on you or overlooked. But you captured so much more than the simple Greek Wedding Traditions that everyone has. The true emotion you captured from my arrival at the Church of Saint Lazarus… well, you captured more than I could ever imagine. You went with your heart and captured the love, emotion, the story and that’s why we booked you.”
Blessing the rings, candles and the common cup
At the start of the ceremony, the couple place the rings on the tips of their wedding fingers and the koumbaro will exchange them three times. The priest will then bless them three times. The couple holds candles throughout the ceremony to represent the light of Christ. These candles can be left at the church to burn down or can be brought home and used over the years, but they must always be completely used and never thrown away. The couple also shares what is known as a common cup, and take three sips of wine each from the cup. The sharing is representative of how marriage will work for the rest of their lives.
There are two traditional readings that feature in Greek Orthodox weddings. The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, which highlights the joining of two people is the first and the Gospel According to St. John is the second. This is where the miracle of turning water into wine was recounted and the reading ties in with the couple sipping from the common cup.
Wedding Crowns | Greek wedding traditions
One of the most recognisable traditions of a Greek wedding is the marital crowns or Stefana. These are two beautiful pieces made from flowers, foliage or even precious metals, and joined together by a strand of ribbon. They symbolise the union of two people into a single couple. The crows are swapped back and forth by the koumbaro three times and the couple wear them as they walk around the altar three times to represent their journey through life together. The priest will bless the couple before removing the crowns, and no vows are exchanged by the couple.
At the reception: get your dance on
As many of you already know, dancing is a major component of a wedding reception and there are a number of traditional Greek dances that are enjoyed, from the Tsamiko to the Zeibekiko and the Sirtaki, where guests hold hands and dance in a circle. There may be others that are linked to particular families or originate from specific parts of Greece. The newlyweds traditionally share the last dance of the night and guests can throw money at them, or pin money to their clothes.
The of the sweetest Greek Wedding Traditions is – Koufeta (sugar-coated almonds) are given to guests right after the wedding ceremony. An odd number is given to each guest and they symbolise purity, fertility and the endurance of marriage.
My aim at every wedding is to tell a timeless story of the day, producing images that tell a much bigger story, photos that sum you up as a couple and will help you remember how you felt. If you’re planning a wedding and looking for a photographer to capture the magic of your wedding day Contact me.