1. Wedding Wreaths
There are some local wedding customs and traditions in many countries that go back centuries. Greece is no different. In the Orthodox church ceremony, two white circlets called stephani (meaning ‘wreath’) which are joined together by a ribbon, symbolising the unity of the couple. They are placed on the bride and groom’s heads by the priest during what is known as the ‘crowning ceremony’. There is much other symbolism contained in the stephana (pl), such as the crowning of the couple by Christ via the priest. The exchanging of the stephana from bride to groom three times by the best man (or woman), the koumbaro(a) seals the union. During our wedding, even though we married in England, we had stephana at our ceremony, swapped on our head by our koumbara
2. Throwing Rice
When leaving the church guests throw a handful of rice on the couple’s heads which is symbolic for the good roots of the marriage.
3. Parading the Dowry
For many decades now, most weddings in Greece are no different from anywhere else. For most, the traditional “Greek wedding” seems more and more like a distant memory. But there are some regions in Greece where old customs and more picturesque weddings still happen. In order to still see that kind of old fashioned wedding, one has to go to the small towns on Mount Olympus (like Livadi or Agios Demetrios), or the rural regions around Ioannina, and of course the islands. Even then, it is getting rarer and rarer. Old tradition dictates that the procession to the church is escorted by a horse carrying the bride’s most valuable belongings and embroidery, which are proudly displayed. Accordion and clarinet always prevail in the traditional wedding parties in Greece, as these customs derive from medieval Greece and Byzantium.
4. Wedding Favours
At the wedding reception it is traditional to give wedding favours known as bonboniera. These are usually bags or boxes filled with sugared almonds (koufeta). The white of the almond is for purity, the almond’s egg shape represents fertility, and the hardness of the nut personifies the endurance of marriage. The sweet sugar is symbolic of the sweetness of married life.The number of koufeta should be 5, symbolising health, joy, fertility, prosperity and longevity. Sometimes the number is more or less but always an odd number, which is not divisible by 2 and therefore representing the fact that the couple cannot be split up. Ideally the number should be a prime number - divisible by 1 and itself - symbolising that the couple can only be separated by death or themselves.
5. Traditional Treats
During the reception pasteli may be eaten. This delicious snack is made from honey and sesame seeds. We tried some at the Apolloniatisses bakery in Rhodes - and brought some home as it was so yummy.
In Crete another tradition is to decorate the wedding table with special decorative bread called Xóbliastres. At one time this would have been to feed the whole village but in modern times it is purely decorative rather than edible.
6. Pinning Money on the Bride & Groom
Of course most people have heard of the pinning of money onto the bride’s dress instead of giving wedding gifts at Greek weddings. It is still a common practice in Greek communities around the world, although probably not so much in Greece. Unfortunately nobody did this at our wedding!
7. Plate Smashing
Although a tradition which people associate with Greek celebrations, the “Breaking of the Plates”, which once implied abundance, to symbolize good luck and happiness, is now considered to be in very bad taste. It is also officially discouraged by the authorities as being dangerous in most regions of Greece.
Dreaming of a 'big fat' Greek wedding or a small, intimate event? We can help you incorporate some of these traditions and customs into your dream wedding in Greece if you wish. Contact Sarah today to arrange your free consultation. We'll create the perfect celebration in magical Greece.
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Another bright day greeted us on the day of our departure from Thessaloniki. After a hasty breakfast we set off for the first visit of the day to nearby Kalamaria. This leafy suburb was quiet and pleasant and the route to it took us along the coast road past one of the old royal summer palaces, now used by state officials. Of course we had to swing by the symbol of the city, the White Tower before turning back to Kalamaria. Thessaloniki has invested in regenerating the seafront. There are now themed areas with fountains, trees and decked areas. A stroll along past the Tower is now essential on any visit to Thessaloniki.
Although supposedly just dropping by for a coffee, we were treated to home made ‘tiropita’ those delicious crispy cheese pies with filo pastry. A good cup of Greek coffee was offered too. What a treat. Refreshed after our short visit we set off to visit a relative in a care home on the outskirts of Thermi, a small town on the hills near Thessaloniki airport. After getting lost and the stupid GPS in my phone trying to direct us across a field and into a factory yard, we finally arrived at our destination. Although a little remote the home is set in lovely grounds and there are fabulous views of the city from the balconies. We were pressed to have some chocolates and remembered happier times before setting off for Halkidiki.
The main motorway passes the outskirts of Thessaloniki with its light industry and many furniture outlets before reaching Tsantali winery. After this I always feel that the scenery becomes more green and picturesque. Scattered vineyards are in evidence but much more so are the hundreds of olive groves producing the famous big fat Halkidiki olives. The soil here is red and the contrast between the red and the green and grey of the olive trees is really beautiful.
Arriving at our small hotel at the top of the first leg of Halkidiki (an area known for its 3 parallel peninsulas or ‘legs’), I felt at peace. It is such a lovely part of the world. The azure of the sea meeting the deep green of the pines and flowers everywhere.
After such a busy day we didn't want to venture too far for dinner so drove the short distance to Gerakini Beach and the excellent taverna Anemomilos (the windmill). Since we had been fed everywhere we went today we decided to share a mossaka and a ‘horiatiki’ known worldwide as Greek Salad with a carafe of the very passable house red wine. Artisan bread and oil were brought with the salad to start. The moussaka was one of the best I have ever eaten, and believe me, I’ve tried a few! It was home made and to the chef’s own recipe. The service was excellent and the whole experience extremely enjoyable. Anemomilos is right opposite the Ikos Olivia 5* hotel and the hotel gives the taverna their seal of approval as they issue their guests with discount vouchers. More about the hotel tomorrow.
Feeling a little more refreshed we got up and made breakfast. Barley rusks with olive oil and tomatoes called dakos (something we learned in Crete), olives, boiled egg, soft cheese and fresh bread. Did I mention the cucumber and lashings of olive oil? So delicious and certainly beats a bowl of cereal.
I was still so tired from the early morning and flight delay that I declined to accompany Peri into the city centre. He had business to take care of so the thought of sitting in government offices for the morning didn’t fill me with get up and go. On his return we set off for a late lunch along the seafront in Nea Krini (part of Kalamaria). We wanted something more traditional than yesterday so headed for an ‘estiatorio’, an eatery in between a taverna and a classy restaurant. After driving down the strip and then back up we decided on Okeanis. They have a menu which changes from day to day.
The food was certainly plentiful and it was excellent Greek staples such as ‘kokkinisto’ (beef stew with tomatoes - kokkino means red) and 'bakalaria me skordalia' (cod with garlic sauce). We were not hungry enough for starters as we know of old how huge the Greek portions are! Instead we settled for a main course each and a salad. This time we chose the ‘horta’ which is wild greens, a bit like spinach but with a more bitter flavour. We added plenty of lemon juice and olive oil and started on it whilst we waited for our main courses.
The kokkinisto came with oven baked courgettes - delicious - and so filling I only added the ubiquitous bread rather than ordering some kind of potatoes as well. The cod was battered and was really light and the cod succulent, with the accompanying skordalia piquant with raw garlic. Good job we both had some!! And what did we drink with this feast? Retsina from one of the oldest and best procurers in Greece, Malamatina. Crisp, cold and supremely refreshing on a hot day. It is the perfect choice for lunch. To finish the meal what better than fruit and ice cream as a gift from the restaurant?
Back to our apartment to get changed and then our with friends to a bar at the marina, Erotikos. No, it is not a girlie bar as the Greek word ‘erota’ is only concerned with romance. The bar is cool, music not too loud so you can chat, and there is a good selection of Greek and international beer. I chose the Fix, one of the oldest breweries in Greece. Brewed in Athens, this lager is light and yeasty with great flavour and no real bitterness. Refreshing and morish, I managed to drink all of a large bottle on my own - usually unheard of! It was great to catch up with old friends, especially in lovely surroundings.
As usual Thessaloniki provides great cafe and restaurant culture and I’m loving it. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings in this exciting city.
After not one but 3 different delays which kept us on the tarmac at London Gatwick for over an hour longer than expected, we finally took off for Thessaloniki. Don’t you love computer systems?! At least we were on the very early flight so still arrived in Greece for lunchtime.
Having hired a car we stepped out of the air conditioned airport into the wonderful hot sun. This is the perfect time to visit as the blazing heat of the summer has mellowed but you are still guaranteed uninterrupted sunshine and temperatures of approx 24oC.
We’re staying in the leafy suburb of Kalamaria within walking distance of the sea. To blow away the cobwebs we went for a walk around the area. Of course we headed for the beach! My husband remembers swimming there as a boy but tells me that nobody does so now. But we can see some of the huge Bay of Thermaikos which Thessaloniki stands on and we found a picturesque spot. It just so happens that, past the quaint little fisherman’s church, is one of the city’s best clubs, Remvi, which is also a trendy bar and restaurant.
Of course we were starving by this point so took a table in the restaurant which boasts a fabulous view.
The food at Remvi is modern but uses some unusual local produce. There is nothing of the traditional taverna about the menu but instead some Greek mainstays like meatballs, have been reinvented as chicken meatballs with the taste of wonderful fresh herbs and served with game chips. I had the grilled octopus which was soft and delicious. The salad we chose to go with our meal was ‘herbs from Ammouliani’. Ammouliani is a small island off the coast of Halkidiki, about a 2 hour drive from Thessaloniki. Neither of us knew what would turn up but the huge salad was of a cooked vegetable which we had never eaten before. It was a little like samphire but tasted quite different. It was almost bitter but not unpleasantly so and I could not compare the flavour to anything else. Dressing the greens were crushed tomatoes, a soft cheese which resembled cottage cheese but tasted a whole lot better, and a vinaigrette. Interesting and tasty. It was too hot for wine so we shared a large bottle of Fix beer. Deliciously refreshing.
We declined the dessert as we were full but we stopped at a local patisserie for cakes for later. Thessaloniki is the city of patisseries. Almost every corner has one. They generally serve homemade ice cream as well as cakes (works of art!) and the fabulous chocolates. We swung by the supermarket and stocked up as we decided to go self-catering this time.
And so to bed! Exhausted after the long day of travel, the hot sun and the walking. I wonder what delights tomorrow will bring…