Local customs differ throughout Greece and the many countries where Greek people have settled, but the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony has remained largely unchanged from country to country throughout the centuries. Part of the magic of a Greek wedding is hearing familiar hymns, dancing traditional dances and enjoying sensational food whether you're in Australia, America or Athens.
A Greek-American man might give his fiancée a diamond engagement ring, but in Greece a gold band, usually inscribed with initials or names and the engagement or wedding date, is used as both the engagement and wedding ring for the man and the woman. During the engagement, the band is worn on the left hand - after the marriage it is worn on the right.
Each part of the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony has religious significance. The number three repeats throughout the ceremony, symbolizing the Trinity. The wedding begins with the betrothal, during which the priest blesses the rings. The rings are then placed on the ring fingers of the right hands of the bride and groom by the best man (koumbaro), who exchanges them three times between the couple, symbolizing the entwining of two into one. The priest says a prayer to seal the rings upon their fingers, and the sacrament of holy matrimony begins.
The Candles - The bride and groom each hold a lighted candle, which symbolizes the light of purity in their lives.
The Joining of Hands - The couple hold hands, symbolizing that they are joined as one.
The Crowning - Two crowns, linked together by a ribbon, symbolize the joining of two souls and that the couple is prepared to establish their own kingdom as head of a new family. Crown styles can range from simple round weavings of flowers and beads to elaborate circular headdresses. During the ceremony, the crowns rest on the altar table, atop a silver tray laden with candied almonds (koufeta) and rice. The priest crowns the couple, and the koumbaro switches the crowns back and forth three times, symbolizing that two are now one.
The Bible Readings - Once the couple is crowned, the priest chants several Bible verses about the duties, responsibilities and holiness of marriage.
The Common Cup - The priest presents the bride and groom with a single cup of wine. They drink from it three times, symbolizing that they will share the cup of life together.
The Dance of Isaiah - Holding hands and joined by their crowns, the bride and groom are led around the altar table three times by the priest, who chants three hymns and carries a gilded Book of Gospels, signifying that they will be following the word of God as they start their lives together. The circle also signifies the eternity of marriage. At the end of the ceremony, the priest invokes a blessing and lifts the crowns from the heads of the newlyweds, indicating the end of the marriage ceremony and the beginning of their lives together.
The bride and groom kick off the reception festivities by dancing the first dance. The bride leads, and the band plays a traditional song, which, roughly translated, includes the words "How beautiful is the bride! How beautiful is her dowry!" While dowry has been outlawed in Greece for years, some grooms still strongly hint that they would like a furnished apartment in Athens! Today, however, anything the bride's parents want to provide for the new couple is strictly voluntary.
In the United States and other countries where Greek people have settled, receptions usually include Greek music and food as well as the music and food of the country where the family now lives. At the end of the party, guests return home with "bonbonieres," a party favor containing an uneven number of koufeta, symbolizing that the couple cannot be divided, and that life contains times that will be both bitter and sweet.