The summer months are the most popular time for a Cretan
wedding as many receptions are held outside and Saturday is
the most popular day to allow time for the guests to travel to
the wedding. According to Greek Orthodox tradition, there
are dates during the year that are considered good luck, e.g.
even though not a summer month, January weddings are
considered lucky as in Ancient Greece this month was
dedicated to Hera, the wife of Zeus and goddess of marriage
and fertility. Also June, which became a special month when
the Romans translated Hera to Juno. There are other dates
which should be avoided; the forty days of Lent, the first two
weeks in August, which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary,
August 29th (the death of John the Baptist), September 14th
(the Exaltation of the Holy Cross) and the forty days leading
up to Christmas.
In the UK, "Something old" is the first line of a traditional
rhyme that details what a bride should wear at
her wedding for good luck:
Something old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue, and a [silver] sixpence in her shoe.
The old item provides protection for the baby to come. The
new item offers optimism for the future. The item borrowed
from another happily married couple provides good luck. The
colour blue is a sign of purity and fidelity. The sixpence - a
British silver coin - is a symbol of prosperity or acts as
a ward against evil done by frustrated suitors.
In Crete there are also rituals:
A lump of sugar inside the bride’s glove is said to ensure a
sweet life and putting a gold coin inside one of her shoes
good fortune. The groom should have something made of
iron in his pocket to ward off evil spirits. An odd number of
guests are invited and an odd number of attendants stand
beside the couple. Odd numbers are thought to be lucky as
they cannot be divided; most symbolic is the number three as
it represents the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. A very
old tradition is to offer congratulations to the couple and spit.
Today guests blow a puff of air through pursed lips – doing
this three times brings even more luck.
In traditional villages invitations are delivered by hand, where
possible, with a little raki of course to drink to the health of
the couple. The
toast is “Kala Stefani”, (“Happy Wreaths”), which refers to the
wreaths which are placed on the heads of the bride and
groom during the ceremony. Two days before the wedding,
women and close friends visit the couple’s home-to-be
(although many couples nowadays are already living
together). They prettify the bed and then people come to the
house to throw money on the bed for good luck. There are,
of course, the stag and hen parties. The best man will shave
the groom and the bride’s friends do her hair. Special songs
are sung and there is music and dancing. The car in which
the bride will arrive at the church is decorated with flowers on
the morning of the wedding. As the time approaches for the
bride to arrive at the church, a procession of cars goes
through the village or town, with horns blaring. The
“Koumbaros” or “Koumbara” (Best Man or Maid of Honour)
wait at the church for the bride to arrive.
At the altar will be the priest, of course, with the bride and
groom, the best man or maid of honour, the little boys and
girls of the family, all dressed up and finally the parents of the
bride and groom. The rings are placed on the bible and the
priest places them on the right hand of the bride and groom.
During the ceremony the priest will put the wreath on both
the bride and groom’s head and the best man or maid of
honour will intertwine these three times before linking them
with ribbon and then they walk round the altar three times
with the priest. The congregation showers them with rice.
The chalice of wine is given to the couple by the best man or
maid of honour and they both take three sips from it. As the
guests leave the church they are given a wedding favour,
which is a sachet of tulle filled with an odd number of
sugared almonds. Five almonds would represent health,
happiness, fertility, longevity and prosperity.
And now the celebrations begin. The venue for the reception
has to be quite large (around 300 guests is considered a
small wedding). It is also tradition for the men to wear a
white scarf around their necks. Amongst the array of food
will be the traditional “Gamopilafo” – the wedding pilaf, which
is slow–cooked goat with rice. There will be cheese, salads,
lamb with potatoes, bread, many sweet desserts, a lot of
wine and, of course, raki. After the feast, the band will play
on the lyra and the laouto and the dancing will begin and go
on well into the morning. And finally there is the giving of
gifts. It is customary to give an envelope with cash to help
the couple start out in their new life together. The couple
also give a token and a sesame bread ring to each guest at
the end of the celebrations. The couple also has a sesame
bread ring which they pull to see who ends up with the
largest piece. Whoever succeeds has the largest say in the
marriage. Crete is known as much for strong women as it is
for strong men.