For those who don’t know, when I am not traveling: I am a full time middle school counselor! And I love my kiddos! When I went to graduate school in New York City, somehow two of my grad school girlfriends were Greek-American.
So, when my friend Christen went back one summer and met a Greek guy, Minas…it only seemed fitting for them to get married back on their island some years later. When she shared that they were getting married, my response was something like “hell yeah, I will be there!” And boy, I did not know what I was signing up for…when her bridal shower was semi formal and encompassed roughly 300 guests, I had to expect the wedding would be an affair.
The festivities started around three. In which we went to my friend Christen’s family house. For background, Christen’s grandparents were all raised in the village of Aperi on the Island of Karpathos. Every summer in childhood, Christen (and back in the day her parents) would visit their island for vacation.
Karpathos, a large island in the Diocesan islands (‘diocesan’ literally translated to 12 islands; prematurely named despite now encompassing 15 large and 150 small islands). The island is matriarchal, so her mom inherited the house from her mother. I can get behind this tradition.
At the house were a lot of family and friends and local neighbors. I was pinned with a blue scarf (the equivalence of a VIP stamp) to easily distinguish between close friends and family and distant relatives and friends at the 1,000 person wedding.
The older male family members were all sitting around one table. There were enough people to consume two tables but were squeezed joyously into one. Some with string instruments and others just vocals playing various traditional songs.
During this time we were offered an abundance of food and drink. In the corner was an offering of memories to the bride’s grandparents who had passed away. We sang, ate, and mingled for a few hours while Christen and her bridesmaids were getting ready. One family member of each Greek household would sing a song dedicated to Christen and her family.
Christen’s father went to the neighboring town of Spoa to give Minas, the groom, a blessing. A few hours later, Minas and all his Spoa family arrived in Aperi (Christen’s village) by car. They cheerfully walked the steep steps to Christen’s house by foot. The 100 extended family members sang to Christen in traditional fashion to “convince” her to marry Minas (I think she was already convinced). We then all created a procession from her house down to the Church. We walked in a slow parade to the ornately decorated church. If I thought everyone’s outfits were glamorous, it paled in comparison to the blast of gold that came from entering the church.
I understood nothing of the church service in Greek. Typical of many weddings, at the end the bride and groom were in a receiving line. Along with the wedding dress, the bride wore gold coins, and while greeting guests she will be pinned with more gold coins from Karpathos guests as wedding gifts. Grandmothers and older family members would place rows of pearls around her neck and wrists.
We went to our table which was filled with English speaking neighbors and friends. In this town, and I have seen in many European towns, the church is the meeting center of older towns. We had seats on the patio, and there was a second lower level for more guests. We stayed on the outside patio next to the church tower. Projected on the facade of the church was film from the procession we had JUST participated in along with beautiful engagement photos of Christen and Minas!
Next up was the grand entrance of the bride and groom. They had their first dance and many speeches. The couple’s first dance was celebrated with fireworks (not sparklers, actual fireworks). Karpathos wedding dinner menu: goat meat, rice and potatoes. I ate it without knowing what the meat was). The remainder of the night was filled with local dancing and music. When going to get a drink at the bar, we were immediately served because of the scarves that had been placed on us earlier in the night.
The night consisted of hours of traditional music and dancing, which is extremely calming and rhythmic! This is why they can keep going until the wee hours of the morning, the dancing is mostly two steps forward one step back while holding onto the person next to you. (I wish I had my fitbit on..)
Another Greek tradition is that most of the relatives and close friends bring desserts. Koufeta (sugar-coated almonds) are a traditional party favor. Each guest at the wedding gets a gift bag that is then filled by family and friends with a sampling of each of their treats. This was absolutely lovely…but not in tune with my hot girl summer plans, haha. But don’t worry I sampled them all!
At 2:00AM when we were saying our goodbyes to go home, Christen told us that we should wait because they were switching from live traditional Greek music to pop music with a DJ. We lasted for a couple songs of Greek pop music and then called it quits.
Thank you to Christen and Minas for inviting me to participate in your beautiful ceremony and for giving me a non-romantic plus one. Thank you to Jen, my hot date and favorite travel companion!