My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Isn’t that the phrase that comes to mind when you hear Greek wedding? This weekend I attended my first “Greek Wedding.” By that I mean, my first wedding in Greece. And it was exactly as I imagined! Fun, loud, large, chaotic, and wonderful.
The couple getting married is from Pittsburgh. The groom,George, is my age, and I grew up attending various Greek events with him. Although we never knew each other very well, we did know each other somewhat. Because we haven’t seen each other in over 20 years, at first I felt strange about going to the wedding. I felt almost as though I’d be “crashing” his party. But, once again, in Greece it’s not the same as in America. Here, when a couple gets married, the parents do the inviting, and they invite the entire village–yes, literally the entire village. In this case, both families–the bride and the groom–are from Ikaria, and their parents are from at least two different villages. So, two villages were invited, as well as most of the people from Pittsburgh who happened to be on the island. In my defense, I wasn’t a wedding crasher. Our families do know each other, and the father of the groom called and invited us all to attend.
A few days before the wedding we saw George and his fiance on the beach, and we had a chance to visit with them briefly. One of my cousins asked George how many people he expected to attend. He said, as calm as could be, “Between 500 and 1500.” And he was serious! When you invite two villages, all the Ikarians from Pittsburgh, and other friends and family, you never know how many will show up. As it turns out, I’m guessing there were about 700 people there.
So, Saturday night my sister and I loaded up two cars and our families and headed up into the mountain village of Frandato for our first “Greek” wedding, which was also combined with a baptism. George and his now wife have a baby boy who was going to be baptized prior to the wedding. George had told us the events were suppose to start at 7 pm. However, the priest doing the service was supposed to start a wedding the week before at 7 pm and showed up at 8 pm (sound familiar.) So, the good Ikarians we are, we left the house at 8:25 pm, fairly confident things wouldn’t start on time. When we arrived in Frandato at 9:20 you could hear the party going on. As we walked closer to the church and the platia, you could hear the people and the laughter. We came across two cousins sitting outside of a cafenio having a frappe (a foam covered, ice coffee drink). Fearful that we actually missed the baptism and the wedding, I asked them what was going on. They said the electricity had just come on after being out for 30 minutes, and they thought the baptism was still happening. Chris and I walked to the church to see what we could. Instead of finding a quiet church with people sitting in pews watching the service, we found a bit of chaos going on. People were entering and leaving the church like there was a revolving door, greeting friends and relatives they hadn’t seen for a while, and holding rather loud conversations. Kids were running in and out and all around the building, including the flower girl and her friends. My niece and daughter, who had run ahead, come barreling out of the church to let us know they had been standing right next to the bride. There was no pews, no reverence, and no order. I figured I could join the masses and begin taking photos from where ever I could. At one point I found myself, egged on by my cousin, outside, standing on a pile of wood, looking into the window at the front of the church in order go get a good shot of the couple.
The reception started immediately following the ceremony right outside of the church. Tables were set up all around the platia, and everyone found a place to squeeze in. While I was walking around outside during the ceremony, I saw them preparing the food for the masses–greek salad, rice, and lamb. I was amazed and how they could figure out how much to actually prepare when there was never an official headcount.
Men and women walked around serving the meal. First came the bottles of wine in the olive oil bottles, followed by a salad and a loaf of sliced bread pulled from an empty 50 lb flour bag. Shortly there after we each were given a plate with very tasty lamb and a huge serving of rice. It took awhile for the individual plates to be prepped and passed out, so we were done eating before many others were served. About 30 minutes after we finished the appetizers arrived–bite sized treats wrapped in filo dough. We weren’t surprised the appetizers came late!
As we sat there on the top of the mountain and talked and laughed with our cousins, the wind blew and kept us all cool and comfortable. My sister kept saying that she felt like we were in a movie set. There were lights stung across the platia, a greek band played in the background, and everyone was smiling. We watched the bride and groom dance their first dance together as a married couple; and then we watched their parents lead them in the traditional Greek wedding dance, the Kalamatiano, just as we all had danced at our weddings in America. Soon thereafter everyone crowded the dance floor in traditional Greek line dancing. Arms were hooked around each other, and one person lead each line, as it grew longer and longer every minute of the 10-15 minute song. The lines of dancers circled and coiled as the leader tried to find a place for their line to go. As I danced a Sousata with my relatives, someone broke into the line and placed their arm on mine. I looked up to find Chris joining the party on the dance floor. My jaw dropped and I thought to myself, “Well isn’t it amazing what a little bit of Greek wine can do!”
With an hour drive down the mountain, back along the main road to Karavostamo, we called it a night shortly after 2 am. Chris picked up a sleeping Zach off of the bench and carried him to the car. The rest of us walked back down the hill, away from the platia and the party with a bit of regret. We knew the party would go on until 6 am, and we wanted to stay and dance some more. But with five kids between us and a long drive ahead, we realized that leaving was what was best. Driving home I thought about how much I enjoyed the sights and sounds of my first real Greek wedding and about how much it really did feel like an entire village had come together to wish the newlyweds the best as they start their life together as husband and wife.