Recently, I was going through some of the old family photographs and came across the one posted here. The photo was taken in my parents’ village of Sklithron in the province of Florina. My father is in the middle with the apron on, my mother behind him, my grandfather is to the left, and there are different cousins and other family members surrounding them. I was intrigued with the photo because everyone just seemed to be having such a great time. I asked my father what was happening at the time the photo was taken.

He said it was my Uncle Nick’s wedding in 1962 and after 18 hours of eating, drinking, and dancing, it was 6:00 AM, and they were walking the Gioumberos halkina (brass) band to the bus stop. He said that the band was walking besides them, playing, but were out of the photo shot. They never stopped playing for those 18 hours. “18 hours!” I exclaimed “Yeah, we knew how to throw a wedding back then,” he smirked.

They sure did.

It made me start to think about weddings, especially Greek ones. I have been to many non-Greek weddings and they are all the same. The groom says, “I do,” and the bride says, “I do, too,” they say some nice vows (Greeks don’t exchange vows…they figure your standing there, your serious about getting married!), kiss each other and off to the wedding reception where there is usually a DJ spinning your favorite hits from over the decades. Pigs in a blanket are the mezethakia of choice and everyone gets drunk. But there is something missing.

The “xeni” weddings have no real traditions. No customs that the bride’s and groom’s families have performed for probably centuries. For example, in the photo with my father, the halkina band just keeps playing, and playing, like the Ever Ready Battery bunny, so long as the hatoura keeps coming. Before the wedding, the entire village walked the bride to the church while the band played. I’ve seen that done here in Upper Darby. They walked the bride to St. Demetrios church while a couple of musicians, including a clarino, played along. That’s neat.

In our family, they shave the groom before the wedding. While he is seated and being “shaved,” the guests congratulate him and throw a little “good luck” money in the towel he has under his chin. On the bride’s side, I have been to the “making of the bed” held by the bridesmaids. The older ladies change the sheets, covers, and pillow cases with new ones and, of course, the guests throw rose pedals and a little “good luck” money on the bed. The women start singing songs and making jokes and laughing. I’m sure there are a few innuendos about the wedding night thrown in there too.

Another tradition is the night before the wedding, the groom’s family mixes flour and other ingredients in a bowel and then offers it to the guests, again, the “good luck” money is thrown in another bowel. When the groom leaves his parents’ house to go to the church, there is a custom where there is a bowel of water with coins in it, and when the groom walks out the house, he kicks over the bowel and throws salt over his shoulder and behind, symbolizing that he will have financial success and that he is not to look back but forward to his new life. Very symbolic.

There are so many traditions and customs and each region of Greece has their own. I have heard, but not seen of the bride placing a lump of sugar in her glove for a sweet marriage. Ivy may be carried by the bride as a symbol of never-ending love. Greek Islanders usually pin that good luck money to the bride and groom. Northern Greeks just throw it.

In the old days, at the wedding ceremony, there is a point when the priests says for the wife to obey the husband, and at that time, the groom is to tap the foot of the bride with his foot – yeah, nice try doing that in 21st Century America! Groom would walk out with a black eye.

At my cousin’s wedding, before the main course was served, the band started playing a tsiftitelli and out of the kitchen came three of the groom’s uncle, including my father, with jackets off, aprons on and their ties up on their foreheads. One carried a small tray with Filet Mignon on it, another carried a large butcher knife, and the third, a large two-prong fork. The three uncles danced in front of the koumbaro and taunting him to “pay-up” for the meal…they would bring the filet in front of him and wave the aroma in his face.

The koumbaro pulled out a $1 bill and stuck in on the fork. “Not enough!” the uncles cried out as they aroused the crowd and continued dancing. The koumbaro pulled out a $10 bill and stuck it in the fork. “Tsigouni!” the uncles called the koumbaro. The rest of the guests started throwing out their own friendly insults. Even the koumbara was yelling at her husband. A $20 bill…still not enough, was the reply. Finally, the koumbaro took out a $100 bill waved it in the air for all to see and stuck it on the fork. The guests went wild, the uncles placed the filet before the koumbaro, took a bow, then threw the money on the bride and groom. It was great.

Whatever your customs and traditions are, and I am sure there are many, keep and continue them so that your children and their children will enjoy them. Kala Stefana to all those soon getting married.

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