So, you did it! You found the man of your dreams and now it is time to make arrangements for the ceremony of the century. The first big choice you have to make is where to have it. If you are a hybrid hyphenated bi-cultural American as most of us are, then you’re choosing between the US and Greece. Although the choice was not even an option for first generation Greek-Americans, for some of us in the third and fourth, having your wedding in Greece is not just magical and beautiful but makes a statement about our identity. As a result, having a Greek wedding, especially on one of the islands, has increased in popularity. Not to mention, a steady stream of non-Greeks have successfully had their weddings on the Greek islands ever since the Broadway revival of “Mama Mia.” In that show, the climax of the story happens as the mother gets married on the beach on the island of Hydra.
In this in-depth feature at greekamericangirl.com which will be published in a series of four parts, we explore the pros and cons, profile some brides who have had a Greek wedding, get advice on style, etiquette and doing it right from a well-known wedding planner from Santorini, and survey some of the sites and options for the ceremony across more than one island and some mainland venues.
PART ONE: PROS AND CONS
Deciding to have a wedding in Greece is a lot like planning for a destination wedding. The same advantages and disadvantages apply. For the pros—
The scenic beauty of Greece as a backdrop to your ceremony is unparalleled. Unless you are fortunate enough to live close to the coast in California, Hawaii, and certain parts of Florida, where in the US can you find the intense blue, the clarity of the sun, the mythical sunsets streaming in lavender, rose gold, and orange, while the turquoise waters tickle your feet on pebbly sands? The white-domed church stark against the bluest blue with a warm sea breeze pulling through your curls? The islands of Greece, as well as the mainland, remain an ideal setting for organizing a wedding. If you have any doubts about this, then look at the wedding photos of all the couples who have had their weddings in Greece as a reminder. This is a huge advantage because chances are your wedding and reception would be held in a stuffy hall or hotel in the US whereas in Greece it would be outdoors in a natural setting, and if you plan it for the summer, with the slimmest chance of rain. It is not unusual to have couples tie the knot under an olive tree or on the beach or overlooking the panorama of wide blue sea shimmering under the golden sun with dolphins doing somersaults in the distance.
For those who have many relatives living in Greece (chances are your clan members in Greece outnumber those who live in the US), arranging a wedding in Greece makes it convenient and acts as a bonding experience for those relatives who might be twice or thrice removed. Weddings in Greece are communal affairs. It is not uncommon to have the entire village crash the wedding if it is held on an island. In fact, a wedding is an excuse to have a party for all. This makes the event more festive. Additionally, traditional village weddings in Greece last for two to three days. There is no deadline or cut off times as the party lasts into the wee hours of the night. Compare this to the strict rules of a Westchester Country Club whose policy is that all functions cease at 11 am. Imagine the disappointment of one Greek American bride who tried to bribe the maître d to allow the party to go on at least until midnight to no avail. This is unheard of in Greece where most parties start after midnight.
Having your wedding in Greece makes a statement about your identity. It is a way to reconnect to your roots and symbolically tie the knot full circle in the place of your ancestry. If you have not made that connection to the land yet, doing so on this very momentous event in your life is significant. Of course, it depends on how you feel about your ancestry. If you are very Americanized, then having a wedding in Greece lacks the symbolic overtones. Even so, as a true American, Greece as a destination wedding would still top most people’s lists as unique.
Not counting the price for airline tickets for each member of the party, the cost of having a Greek wedding in Greece is considerably less than what one would pay for in the States (depending on how classy you wanted your reception). It is not unheard of for some weddings Stateside to average from $30-$100K. In Greece, you can get a beautiful hotel, flowers, photography, music services, food with service for about half that price depending on the luxury standard. All in all, when comparing weddings with the same star rating in the two places, having a wedding in Greece gets you more for your buck. (More on this in Part 3 where we preview different venues and comparison shop).
That’s not to say, that having a wedding in Greece is a piece of wedding cake. There are differences in culture, procedure, and paperwork.
THE PREPARATION and PLANNING
While it might be possible to arrange for a ceremony from start to finish in five month’s time Stateside, that would be a fiasco if you are planning a Greek destination wedding. The average time it takes to iron out the details, make bookings, and all the rest of the planning to-dos in a typical wedding is one year. Not for a wedding in Greece. Typically, to have a successful destination wedding, the couple should prepare two years in advance. Dimitra Tzortzatos, a Greek-American attorney who decided to have her wedding in Greece, stresses due diligence and careful preparation as key to a successful Greek wedding. According to her experience, she cited that planning a wedding in Greece is made more difficult because it is not as easy to find vendors in Greece as it is here in U.S. “You need to be in Greece at least 6 months prior to the date to book the church and venue,” she states. “ Then you have to find a reputable florist, band, DJ, photographer.” All this planning is made more time-consuming and involved because in a sense you are dealing with customs and protocols of a foreign country. (Even if you make frequent trips to Greece or spend your annual vacations there, Greece is not the same when you are trying to conduct business there.) She also points out that the Greek culture is not customer service oriented and most vendors will not go out of their way to accommodate you. As she states, “If you are planning a summer wedding, try to book vendors at least a year before as Greeks’ priority is their own vacation.” There was also the issue of trust and worrying about whether or not they would actually show up. Dimitra advises contracting the services of a wedding planner based in Greece to handle these planning details or at least hire one to manage the wedding day and keep the program moving smoothly without you, the anxiety-ridden bride already, having to become more anxious over the nerve-shattering details of why the DJ is not playing the proper theme music, or why the ice cream is runny, and why Theia Katina is not sitting next to her son causing her to get into a hysterical fit about the “prosboli” the insult to the family and the lack of “philotimo” for family.
Greece is a highly bureaucratic country. While arranging for paperwork is not a big deal as most wedding packages include processing fees for all licenses, the need to complete extra steps in the paperwork process is, nevertheless, another detail that needs attending. For the most part, it takes several weeks, if not months, before the required paperwork can be processed and a marriage certificate issued in Greece. If both bride and groom are Americans, the easier route would be to file for a marriage license in his/her own state(as long as the certificate does not state it is valid only in that state or county) and then have it stamped at the American embassy/consulate with an Apostille certification before the ceremony. Otherwise, there would be a lot of legwork in Greece for the license. Obtaining a marriage license in Greece generally involves submitting official identity documents (passport, birth certificate, any official documents attesting to the termination of a previous marriage) in duplicate for both bride and groom AND having OFFICIAL TRANSLATIONS done in Greek by a licensed lawyer, translator, or Consulate. Then, to show to the Greek authorities that there is no impediment in the marriage legally, two steps are required: 1) having an official Certificate of No Impediment in both English and Greek signed under oath by the American citizen bride or groom before a Consular Officer in Athens or Thessaloniki (or Embassy) and 2) having notices posted in the Greek newspapers about their intended union with copies of the newspaper.
And that’s just the first part, to apply for a marriage license. The second half of the process is to register the marriage once it is completed. Depending on whether it is a civil ceremony or a religious (with differing details depending on the religious jurisdiction), the presiding authority is charged with submitting the signed marriage certificates for filing in the National Registry office and the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
Because the process is long and laden with many paper trails, it is best to do research and contact your local Greek consulate if residing Stateside about the details of your particular ceremony. As general information, you can check with the American Embassy in Athens page http://athens.usembassy.gov/marriage.html.
THE TRAVEL EXPENSE
One of the biggest hurdles for organizing a wedding in Greece is making sure your closest relatives Stateside will be able to attend. For many of those near and dear to you, although they would love to attend your dream wedding in Mykonos, the logistics of arranging vacation time, the cost of round-trip air fare to Athens and then maybe a ferry to the island, aggravated by the stress of providing for kids make it close to impossible for them to attend. The reality is such that while your guest list might have numbered close to 200 in the US, those who will be able to accompany you on your dream wedding will be a tight handful. You will have to accept the fact that your island wedding will be a smaller, intimate affair, not like the sprawling rock concert of sorts some American weddings are. (I heard of one Greek-American restauranteur from Chicago had 6,000 invitees to his daughter’s wedding.)
One way to get over this hurdle, if you are intent on having your way, is to think of it as a pre-planned vacation with a function attached. If you inform your guests, two years in advance, you can reason with them, “Hey, we are getting married on the island of Mykonos during the summer of 2015. We would appreciate your presence. Keep your calendars open for that June.” You can present your wedding plans in the form of a vacation package for your guests, including brochures of the hotel or ceremony venue, prices for accommodation, and info of the destination. If you work early enough and have guests commit for a certain time in the future, you might be able to save money on air fare by getting a group discount with a travel agency or airline. Some airlines even offer discounts for individuals attending a ceremony such as a wedding.
CHANGES IN TRADITION and DIFFERENCES IN CUSTOMS
When you have a wedding in Greece, you might miss out on some of the American traditions you are used to. For one, it is not customary to have bridesmaids or groomsmen. Typically, the couple’s immediate family stand behind them on the altar with the sponsor(s). Unless you are having a civil wedding, having a Church wedding with a priest you are not familiar with feels a bit like a business transaction. As Dimitra Tzortzatos points out, “I also found that it’s hard to try and incorporate ‘American’ traditions and probably not a good idea because if most of the guests are native Greeks, they have a certain expectation of what will occur, and if you do something differently, they won’t know what to make of it. For example, in Greece they do not usually assign seats or tables to guests. We did, and the maître ‘d was guiding guests to their tables. However, some guests did not know to check with the maître ‘d and ended up sitting at tables reserved for close family ruffling feathers.” Sometimes you either have to educate guests and assimilate them into the traditions you want included in your ceremony or else follow the maxim, “When in Rome or Athens or Santorini, do as the Romans do.”
A difference in customs involves food. Dimitra recounts, “When I planned my wedding in 2005, it seemed that a three-course meal menu was not regarded as highly as having an open buffet with a lot of selection of food. There is no cocktail hour and then dinner–just one or the other.” Unless you are on the mainland where there are more options in terms of food selection, if you hold an intimate island wedding, you are limited to the types of food prepared in the hotel you have booked it. Not that that’s a bad thing. Traditional Greek food on the islands tends to be fresh, simple and delicious. But those who have special food needs, or a more discerning palate must become content with the local fare. Even so, some of the larger islands such as Crete allow for catering and more exotic food choices (Thai, French, German, even American continental!)
But there are some local customs that might be nice to include on your big day, especially if you like the more traditional sort. For one, it is customary in Greece to place sweets under the guests’ pillows. In some places, single girls sleep with a slice of wedding cake under their pillows in order to dream of their future husbands. And there is the village ritual of having the bride ride on a donkey accompanied by serenading violin musicians (usually wearing a Greek captain hat and a bushy moustache) all the way to the church. You pick and choose which customs you want and include them in the day ‘s festivities. It’s also a good idea to include a short explanation of each custom you choose to use for guests who would otherwise think, “It’s all Greek to me.”
So, where do you have it—Stateside or Greece? Ultimately, each couple must decide for themselves based on their unique needs, preferences, and circumstances. All told, most of the brides surveyed would opt to have their weddings in Greece. Having a wedding in Greece is a dream come true for both Greek-Americans and non-Greeks alike. Realizing the dream takes a bit of creative problem-solving, flexibility, and plenty plenty of prep time.
Log back in a few days for PART 2 of this feature: My Dream Wedding Come True
This week we lament the passing of one of the most dynamic African-American women of the 20th century: Maya Angelou. We can rest easy in the fact that her life was full and deep. Do we dare list all that she dared to do? Here is only a brief dusting—
-First female cable car driver in San Francisco at age 14
-first to describe in painfully vivid detail the horrors of rape at the hands of a mother’s boyfriend
-a single mother at 17, unwed, but forced to hustle to survive, including a stint as a hooker
-first female African American woman to pen a TV screenplay and compose music score, Georgia, Georgia that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
-studied modern dance with Martha Graham and danced with Alvin Ailey
-singer and stage performer with records such as Calypso Lady
-actress on the famous series “Roots” (1977)
-editor of The Arab Observer in Cairo and later instructor and assistant administrator at the University of Ghana’s School of Music and Drama
-feature editor for The African Review and wrote for The Ghanaian Times and the Ghanaian Broadcasting Company
-writer of seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, a long list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than 50 years
-one of the few African American performers to tour Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess
-spoke five languages
-active in the civil rights movement with such figures as Malcolm X and Vusumzi Make
-heartbroken at the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr on her birthday she went on to write one of the most painful memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, including the painfully vivid detail of rape at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend
-recited “On the Pulse of the Morning” on the morning of President Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 before becoming Poet Laureate of America
-professor since 1981 of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
-acted on television and films including Poetic Justice (1993) and directed numerous dramatic and documentary programs on television, most notably, Down in the Delta, in 1996.
-In 2011, President Barack Obama awarded her the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Maya Angelou was a “Phenomenal Woman.” She dared all. So what does she have in common with us Greek American girls? Well, she too you can claim was a Greek-African American woman.
In 1951, against the outrage of her mother and the atrocious taboos against interracial marriage, she married someone like us—a handsome, studly Greek sailor, electrician and aspiring musician Tosh Angelos. That’s why her last name is Greek; it is a derivation from her husband’s name. (Her first name was a derivation from the stutter that Bailey, her beloved younger brother, had “My” later becoming “Maya” from a book about the Mayans he was reading.)
Not much is known about her relationship with Tosh, except that it was sensational. Of course he must have been hot and they were attracted in an erotic kind of way. But most certainly their attraction must have been formed as a rebellion against the rigid codes of racist pre-1960s America.
Like us, she must have had a tumultuous marriage. After only three years, her marriage ended in divorce. But it was at that point that her artistic career really got off. She entered the most fruitful period of her life artistically as a result.
Like us, Greek American women, Maya lived life passionately. She had a deep and burning love for life that manifested in the kaleidoscope of her art. She loved to travel. She loved to love. She was strong yet humble at the same time. She had a way with people. She was a caring mother. She understood suffering both her own and that of her people. I even saw an interview she had with Dave Chappelle talking about how she broke up a fight between two young African American teenagers. She took the one who was raging aside and gently spoke to him about the sufferings of his people and that what he was doing was destroying himself. That young man later turned out to be Tupac Shakur. When she came into his life, he then went on to begin the most fruitful part of his artistic career.
Yes, dear friends, Maya Angelou was and always will be Greek.
We met through a mutual friend. I always said I would never marry a Greek boy because they are mama’s boys and it was inevitable I married a Greek. I hate to sound stereotypical but we clicked from the beginning and it was love at first sight. He grew up in a household filled with what he calls crazy women and swore that he would never marry a Greek woman and he didn’t.
What impressions or stereotypes did you have of Greek culture before you married into it?
The stereotypes of Greeks being loud. It’s so hard to have a conversation when everyone talks over each other. I have to say my church community has been very welcoming but my inlaws have not. They are very clannish and have all known each other since they were kids. I don’t think anyone would have fit in. When it comes to religion it’s crazy being the convert I am more religious than they are. They make stuff up as they go along.
What obstacles or resistance, if any, did you encounter from your respective families when you decided to marry?
There was no resistance from my family but there was from his family. No one is good enough to marry him
How do you stay true to your own culture?
I grew up in a very American household. Outside of the occasional meals I am still true to my culture
What advice or wisdom do you have for other intercultural couples who are negotiating two cultures and religions?
My advice to any couple getting married whether interracial or not “When you marry the man you marry the family” you may not think you do but you do. The way they were raised is a big reflection on who they are, take off the lust love goggles and think realistically. Would you want your child married to this person and into this family? If the answer is no then run now. Also you have to be equals and enjoy each other’s company. Prior to getting married I would have never lived with someone before marrying them; however after being married I think you should live with the person at least a year before marrying them. Once you live together you see the true personality.
For insights into the love and marriage, we interviewed Linda Katsiotis, an Italian-American married to a Greek for over 32 years. Linda has written about her marriage to Nick and Greek culture in her memoir Nifi, which we will be reviewing for a future post. Her candid statements give an insider look into the workings of a successful relationship and serve as an inspiration for all of us who have made Greek the love of their life.
Describe your background cultural and professional.
I’ve lived on Long Island all of my life. My father was Italian from the old country–the Bronx. Both of his parents were born in Italy. My mother was French Canadian. They met in NYC in the 50s, married and settled on Long Island. There was not a strong cultural background. My grandparents came from a time when it was extremely negative to be an immigrant so they didn’t speak Italian to their children. My mother’s family was far away so we rarely saw them. People did not travel back then, the way they do now. So, our family had nothing “ethnic” that I can think of, though I can curse in French and Italian.
I have two sisters and three brothers. I had a high school diploma, but was not encouraged to go to college – which was not so unusual in those days. That’s why I went to work in a diner near my house. I went to college when I was married with kids. Nick basically put me through school.
How did you meet your Greek American husband? Describe the courtship. What influenced your decision to marry each other?
I wouldn’t call him Greek-AMERICAN. He was born in Greece. I worked with him at a diner. I was twenty-two. He was twenty-seven. He could barely speak English and he had no intention of staying in the U.S. He was just hanging out, having a good time. He had just jumped ship in NYC. We fell in love. He was/is gorgeous, so handsome! It was purely a physical attraction, but after the first date, I never wanted to be without him. After a few months I asked him, “So, what are you going to do? Are you going to marry me or what, because if you are just having fun, I’m not interested.” He said something like, “okay, I’ll get married.” And that was it. My parents disliked him, especially my mother. He was not what she expected for her daughter. My father was more tolerant because he had grown up in an ethnic community and it was not such a foreign idea. (In my blog I talk about how he always told us we had to marry Italians, which is true, but he was not serious – he was teasing my mother– but I did not realize that because I was a little kid). They did not want me to marry Nick, though and refused to support it. So, Nick and I went to a courthouse and married before the justice of the peace. My parents were very upset and maybe thought he just wanted his papers and hoped he would leave and then I could find some nice American boy. But we were insanely in love.
What impressions or stereotypes did you have of Greek culture before you married into it?
I did not know what a Greek was. I had no preconceived ideas because I was clueless. I thought they were Italian for the first few days that I worked there!
What obstacles or resistance, if any, did you encounter from your respective families when you decided to marry?
There was no resistance. His entire family was in Greece: Parents, 3 sisters, a brother. He just called them one day and told them that he had married and that was it. They hadn’t seen him in many years. He was a poor kid from a very poor area (Eprius). It was not that unusual for the kids to leave and not come back for many years. That was the 70s and 80s and on Long Island the diners were the place to eat—long before all the franchises like Applebees and Houlihans etc. Those did not yet exist.
There were so many young Greek men here. Immigration used to come and raid the diner and they’d all run out the back door.
How did you and your husband negotiate the potential conflicts with regards to upbringing for your child?
Again, the word that comes to mind is “clueless.” We were young and dumb and Nick worked a lot – 7 days a week, 10 hours. He was a little “rougher” with discipline than I was.
How did your perceptions of Greek culture change once you became a part of it? Basically, what did you think before and after you became a “Greek”?
So, this question to me is more like: Once you became part of the Greek culture, what did you think? Nick had some cousins here that he met after he left the ship in NY, so it’s not like they were close but they were the only ones he had. So we went to baptisms and weddings and events like that. I really felt like an outsider. I wanted very much to be part of them but they all spoke Greek and I could not. I just never really fit in. That was one specific culture–the Greeks in America. But then there was this whole other different culture –The Greeks in Greece in a small village that I would equate to the Appalachian Mountain communities. This was like visiting a different planet. Indescribable! But I’ll shamelessly plug my book here ; ) It basically tells the tale in detail. But I can tell you this: That visit to his village saved our marriage. When I left there, I understood who he was and why he did some of the things he did.
What factors made you embrace the culture? What influenced you to become Orthodox if you converted?
Nick was adamant about raising the kids in the Greek Orthodox Church. I really liked the Greek culture so it was easy to embrace and I yearned for something as strong as that Greek Orthodox culture was, so I dove in head first. I always celebrate Greek Easter at my house with my extended family when it doesn’t fall on Catholic Easter, I have a big new year’s dinner with the Vasilopita. I can roll out a pita like nobody’s business. My kids were at Sunday school everySunday. I taught it for a few years. They were at Greek School every Friday night. I loved the ethnicity of it all and I wanted them to feel like they belonged. In fact, I was so zealous about it, that my nephew – my brother’s son—who was 100% Italian, came home from kindergarten with his project about his family background and it had an Italian and Greek flag on it. My brother had to explain it to him. I actually didn’t officially convert to Greek Orthodox until about 15 years ago. I just wanted us to all be the same. That is around when Nick got his American citizenship also.
What is the best and worst of being Greek? (BE HONEST) In other words, why would it be a good idea for someone who is not Greek to marry someone Greek?
I married Nick because of the individual he is. It had nothing to do with his ethnicity. I was so attracted to him but I also loved the things he said. A friend of mine was having cosmetic surgery on her teeth back before we were married and he said, “your husband married you because he loves the person you are, not your teeth. Why are you bothering.” Another time, I said with disgust, “Can you believe my friend is marrying an Iranian!” that was back during the Iranian hostage crisis. And he said, something like a person is an individual. You should judge him on his character not on where he was born. That kind of stuff just bowled me over. It was nothing like any of the American guys I knew. That being said, I love that my Greek last name gives me this instant camaraderie with all other Greeks. They are so protective and instantly accepting of their own. I just love that. When you marry a Greek, you not only get a giant extended family, you get a whole community no matter where you are. You asked for the worst and maybe that would be the way they overpower you and swallow your identity. So far, I have met only one quiet Greek and I know hundreds : ) But honestly, I see that more as endearing than annoying.
How do you stay true to your own culture?
LOL! Cute. I don’t! If you ever find a non-Greek who does, let me know. It’ll be the first : ) When you marry a Greek, you become Greek and if you just embrace it and enjoy it, you end up with 32 years +
What advice or wisdom do you have for other intercultural couples who are negotiating two cultures and religions?
I don’t think I am qualified to advise anyone : ) I think there will always be a partner who is a little stronger in his/her sense of culture and/or religion and so that is the one that will dominate. I’m not sure I agree with two religions. Pick one and stick to it. But if one partner is Greek, you’re probably going to end up Greek Orthodox : )
What influenced your decision to marry a non-Greek, esp. since Greeks are so endogamous?
I didn’t think about it. I fell in love and that was it. I was marrying the person.
How did you counter resistance, if any, in your family with regards to marrying a non-Greek bride?
No one in her family ever bothered me. We did things the way we wanted to and that was it.
To Nick and Linda and all the inter-cultural love matches in the world, we wish you all the love for many years of happy marriage to come.
If you like the content you get here at www.greekamericangirl.com, now is the chance to get your copy of the book that started it all. Here’s the scoop:
At this point, anyone who considers herself Greek has seen the blockbuster independent flick “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The movie finally helped to implant the Greek girls’ experience on the mind of mainstream America. While the film did manage to get positive reviews, loud guffaws and cross-cultural amusement (not to mention $135 million in box-office receipts) at the plight of the female protagonist and her family’s goal to get her married, preferably to a Greek, is this to be taken as the definitive description of a Greek American woman’s experience? There were many facets in the complex lives of Greek American girls that the movie either failed to address or failed to address in a serious manner.
Being a Greek-American Girl by Irene Archos has just been released to pick up where the movie left off. Written by a quintessential Greek-American girl, raised in Astoria, the quintessential Greek-American town, Being a Greek-American Girl explores the complex issues of growing up as a hyphenated American. Part-memoir, part-reflective personal essay, the book tries to capture the angst of growing up a girl in a metropolis from a conservative, “Old World” family in America. The frustrations, concerns, and joys represent to a large degree the collective angst of all Greek-American women. The book chronicles the mixed feelings of “Coming To America,” reflects on the parallel reality of growing up in Greece. It sketches caricatures of the major players in the Greek-American family, pokes fun at some of the strange rituals in the culture, and re-views the Old Country under the bifocal lens of multiculturalism.
Being a Greek-American Girl describes the tensions brought on by two contrary drives—the drive to mask one’s original ethnicity in order to become successful in the dominant culture and the drive to hold onto one’s culture before it is irrevocably lost.
Being a Greek-American Girl delves into the deep roots of identity and attempts to mold an answer to the question—What exactly is a Greek-American? Swaying from the smugly critical to the endearingly embracing, this creative non-fictional account is sure both to amuse and to insult, to give answers and to raise questions, to create controversy and to build community.
Irene Archos, author of Being a Greek-American Girl, is a freelance author and journalist. She first explored the issues pivotal to the Greek-American experience in a weekly column for the Greek-American daily The National Herald (O Ethnikos Kerykx). “I felt compelled to write this book because I found that only through a full-length book could I talk deeply about the issues critical to me, not only as a Greek American, but as a woman. Much of the Greek media is in the hands of older, staided Greek men who don’t have an interest in the feelings, the concerns, nor in the voices of Greek women.” As stated in the “Preface,” the book came was written as a way to vindicate the existence of Greek Americans as a vital minority, long-overlooked by mainstream America and as a way to establish the voice of a Greek woman as a legitimate literary entity.
So, you have decided despite the cons to have your wedding in Greece. What can you expect? How do you go about arranging such an event? What details do you have to attend to? What are the Dos and Don’ts for a typical Greek island wedding? In this installment of “My Dream Wedding: A La Greque,” we will probe into the fine details of your dream wedding in Greece by talking to a bride who accomplished it and get some notable advice from a notable wedding planner from the island of Santorini.
When Christina Fountoulakis, attorney and compliance officer for Deutche Bank, met the man of her dreams, George, a NYPD police lieutenant, she faced the big dilemma: although the closest of her nuclear family lived in New York, her extended clan as well as her husband’s lived in Crete. After doing a price comparison, she decided her wedding would be more authentic if it were held in Chania. When she was married ten years ago, Chania was not known as a wedding destination and had only two banquet halls, two photographers, and a single-list menu. But since that time, as many foreigners and Greeks alike have found favor with the island, its wedding infrastructure has expanded. In fact, when Christina’s younger sister got married in Crete three years ago, she had more options and wedding establishments had cropped up catering to more American-style weddings. Crete, after all is one of the largest islands in Greece, and has plenty of 5-star hotels and an A-list of superb caterers and florists.
The Metoxi Hall outside the city of Chania, venue for George and Christina’s wedding
Sun-Kissed: George and Christina on the first day for the rest of their lives, overlooking Chania Bay
A brilliant alternative to the traditional wedding cake: Iced Chocolate lollipops for guests and a miniature Bride & Groom at the Belvedere Mykonos. Photo by George Pahountis.
As she states, “Our decision to have our wedding in Greece was based on personal and financial reasons. George and I have most of our family in Crete and planning a wedding in the US would’ve left the most important people out of our wedding. Also, we had booked a NY banquet hall for our entire wedding and as the planning began, it became very cumbersome since there are tons and tons of options for every little decision that needs to be made (for example, the flowers. You can’t just decide on flowers, but what kind and color– too much selection. Same goes for menu). At the time I was traveling for work and George was swamped with work and neither of us had the time or desire to examine all these details. Further, the costs were astronomical. In Greece, George’s uncle and cousin are priests, which was another factor we considered as it would be a wonderful blessing to have them marry us. A wedding in Crete offered us added benefits that were not available in the US, such as a cheaper wedding. In NY we were looking at $115/per person whereas in Crete it was 15 Euro. A photographer in NY ran us around $5,000 whereas there it cost 400 Euro. This price difference was the case in all items, flowers, DJ, etc. This allowed us to return to NY with piece of mind that we were not going to be working to pay off our wedding for years on end.”
For her ceremony, Christina combined the best of both worlds: she kept the American tradition of having a bridesmaids, mother/son and father/daughter dances, garter and bouquet tossing, and the koumbaro speech. However, she was able to incorporate Cretan customs such as having all single girls dress the bride and have them sign the bottom of the bride’s shoe. Before the bridal party left for the church (in cars not by foot as is the tradition as the church was too far), the groom’s family continued the Chaniotiko tradition of the gun-fire salute. Men dressed in black pointed their rifles into the sky for a ear-piercing sound off. After the religious ceremony in a quaint Greek Orthodox Church, the wedding party, which included family members from the US and from Crete, celebrated in the banquet hall Metoxi. The hall, a castle-style open-air establishment outside the city center on a hill overlooking the sea and the hills, proved to be the fairy tale castle for a princess wedding. Because they were farther from the city center, they did not have noise or time restrictions. The religious ceremony started later in the day at approximately 7 pm and the reception started at around 10pm and lasted until the early dawn. This relaxed, later start spared guests the early morning hustle of getting ready for the wedding. Additionally, the reception took place for the most part al fresco the entire time, and not just for the cocktail hour.
A delightful couple memorialized by Segerius Bruce Photography
So in Christina and George’s case, the advantage of a Greek wedding was the simplicity and the lack of so many choices that can be overwhelming in organizing this type of event. As a couple who wanted a hassle-free affair, Christina was of the mindset that “Although it was risky, taking decisions on these details without knowing what to really expect, our view was that those details will not make or break the day. We went with standard choices and were not the type to worry about type of flowers, courses etc. We accepted whatever was being offered.”
That being said, there were some major details that could not be avoided for this type of wedding. For one, planning. “We needed to travel to Crete the year before or so to select the venue, photographer, dj, flowers etc,” Christina recalls. “This added to the travel costs that we would have not incurred.” Additionally, there were problems having Greeks, who are very live-in-the-moment type of people who operate with less insistence on planning as Americans do, to commit to booking an event a year in advance. “Everyone would say, ‘Ok, reach out to me a month before to talk about details,” Christina notes. “This was very difficult for us since we weren’t local and wouldn’t be there a month before. This resulted in us traveling there a week before to iron out all the details, such as times, costs, and selections.”
Even though destination weddings have become the norm in Greece in the recent years, with more establishments complying to customer’s expectations for American standards such as sign-in table for guests, course menus at halls with fine linens and American-style waiter service, Christina still cautions brides that “although many items may be offered similar to the US, it is still a new ‘industry’ for them.” She makes the point that service is not as refined as in the US and the selections are not as extensive. “All brides should understand that they can’t have a true NY wedding there, and they must be comfortable with compromise. If they try to make all the details fit, they will ruin their day,” Christina advises. She also makes the suggestion that couples visit the venue a year or six months before booking. “Do not trust online photos for any venue as they vary greatly. Budget for last minute items that may not be included as they would in the US ( for example, wine, open bar etc.)” she cautions.
Christina’s wedding turned out to be a blessing. She enjoyed a longer-lasting event. “Weddings in NY are very structured and are for a limited time (5 hour reception). In Crete we were able to have a church on a beach and a reception that lasted until 5 am. Also, it is less structured – no formalized courses and reasons to be seated which interrupt the flow of events.” In addition, the built-in advantage of having a wedding in Greece is that instead of paying extra for a honeymoon, you are there. In her case, a two-week honeymoon in Spain cost next to nothing. Christina’s wedding also proved a memorable experience for her out-of-country guests. A Greece wedding provided wonderful summer plans for her New York friends who were able to experience the culture from the inside-out as parts of her family and not just tourists. She did not regret her choice of having an island Greek wedding and encourages couples to tie the knot there given the glitches.
Michael and Gemma Ord. Photo by Antonis Eleftherakis
Christina and George organized their wedding themselves, which necessitated a trip to Greece the year prior and coming to Crete a month prior to iron out the details. They could have saved money and stress by hiring a wedding planner. In fact, one of the biggest pieces of advice most brides give in order to pull off a successful destination wedding in Greece is to hire a wedding planner. This makes sense especially if you are a foreign bride and are unfamiliar with the language, the logistics, and the locale. Even as a Greek bride, it makes sense to hire a planner just to do away with all the little devils in the details that might come up (and given the bureaucracy, the lack of sticking to deadlines, even after agreements have been made, and the Greek general “devil may care” attitude in certain places, the little devils pop up all the time). The relief that comes with knowing an expert and a native with interpersonal clout (social currency is of primary importance in a closely-knit society such as a village on a remote island in the Cyclades and counts more than actual currency) has the grand show under control allows an already tense bride the peace of mind to enjoy her special day even more.
Stella Chanioti, of the exclusive wedding planning group, Stella and Moscha, pioneered the concept of having your wedding on one of the most breath-taking, romantic islands in all of Greece, Santorini. Santorini, with its white-washed stone homes overlooking the steep cliffs to the port, its unforgettable sunsets, and its dramatic panoramas dipping into the Caldera, (the active volcano directly across the harbor), has been the top destination for getting hitched for both foreigners and Greeks alike. Their story begins with their mother, Evangelia, who settled in Santorini and started one of the first wedding planner boutiques in all of Greece. Two daughters and two decades later, Stella and Moscha are not just planners but dream-makers. Both sisters lived in the UK and completed advanced degrees in business studies there. Both had high-strung careers in marketing and event planning, and they would have continued until just around the same time, both sisters felt the call of Santorini—the blue skies and warm sun—and their calling to do what they loved most—wedding design and planning. Since returning to their native island, they have headed the family business with new drive and creative flair. Their sense of style—the combination of traditional Cycladic aesthetic (smooth forms, clean lines, simplicity, love of sky blue and dazzling white) with European finesse and attention to detail—has set them apart in the industry. They won the Wedding Experts Industry Award this year. Having organized over 300 weddings in their career, Stella and Moscha are more like the fairy godmothers in Cinderella whose magic and artistry create a living fairy tale for years to come.
Stella gave me some answers to some common questions about organizing an island wedding on Santorini in the following interview:
What reasons would you give a couple, especially a Greek American couple, for getting married on the Greek islands?
The unique environment and landscapes. The great light for photos, clear skies and the relaxed atmosphere but also with the option for formal weddings. An island wedding also provides a good ratio of rate to quality services. We also have unique venues.
What are the major obstacles and how would you suggest overcoming them?
On the smaller islands there is not a lot of choice for some vendor services such as a design oriented florist. Don’t expect florists in a tiny island to provide you with formal proposals and pdf’s with photos/designs. Don’t get disappointed: send specific photos/brief to your florist or wedding planner and ask them to reproduce just what is on the photo.
Can you tell me a story of a particularly memorable wedding in Santorini?
All weddings are memorable, every couple is unique for us and there is always a nice story behind every couple and family. If I had to choose one it would be the story of an English family who booked our services 4 years ago knowing that the bride was battling with cancer and may not be able to have children. Six months later they called to postpone the wedding, letting us know that she was in fact pregnant and the doctors were supporting her every step of the way. They eventually did make it to Santorini with their one year old daughter and the entire family to celebrate what was one of the most emotional /spiritual weddings we have ever organized. We were truly blessed to be part of this couple’s special day and for being there to make their dream come true–to get married on a Greek Island.
What advice would you give brides to be about having an island wedding? How long in advance should they plan for it? How do you make it possible for more family from abroad to attend the ceremony?
They should research well in advance of the wedding date. When international travel is involved, guests should be made aware/ receive save the dates at least 9-12 months in advance. The couple should provide an information pack with facts about the island, where to go, what to see, where to stay, where to eat and useful numbers such as hospitals, taxis etc. The Greek islands are directly accessible by most main European airports so it’s easy for a family to fly from London, Paris, Athens, Munich, Manchester, Milan, Oslo, Rome and others.
What makes a wedding in Santorini the traditional Greek way different from a wedding that is typical in the United States?
For one, the guests get to experience customs and local traditions that are very different to what you would do back in the States. This makes it more interesting and the more you involve the guests the better it is. So having Bridesmaids distribute rice and petals at the end of the ceremony to shower the newlyweds, offer Soumada (sweet/sour almond juice) at the end of the ceremony, have the Bridal bed prepared by local girls in traditional gear whilst singing local island songs to wish the couple prosperity and fertility, the mother-in-law welcoming the newlyweds into the wedding reception by offering them honey and almonds. Also in the islands you usually walk from the church to the wedding reception venue adding to the small village/island feel. Guests find these customs really wonderful.
What is island wedding etiquette? (For example, can you be barefoot on the beach? Can you wear sandals?)
I wouldn’t say there is an island etiquette. You can be barefoot on the beach but we have also had beach weddings where we set up platforms for the bride and groom. So the bride could walk in high heels. We do suggest to brides to have a second pair of comfy shoes with them always however.
To see Stella and Moscha’s events, log onto their award-winning site and check out their portfolio of events at www.stellaandmoscha.com. Here’s some quick snapshots of their fantastic events:
on the edge of the caldera cliffs for Tamarin and Graham at the Sun Rocks Hotel
Photo by Andrea & Marcus at the iconic whitewashed Honeymoon Suite terrace of Katikies Hotel
A personal greeting from Stella and Moscha on their signature stationery
Putting the finishing touches to a reception for Regina and Jay
In a relaxed pose on a Saturday morning
What is it like to be gay and Greek? It’s not like Greeks from ancient times did not have the stereotype of liking a four letter word that begins with a “d” instead of a “c.” But what if you were Greek, gay and a girl? And not on the island of Lesbos, where the female half of the stereotype comes from, nor like the famed female poet whose songs of love still reverberate today, but in modern-day Australia as part of a conservative immigrant Greek family? This is the story of Catherine Politis, a woman who had the courage to come out in spite of the taboo of gayness in the modern Greek community. Because she is lesbian, the taboo becomes anathema as it is a heavier disgrace for a woman to be homosexual. We can all call up a gay Greek man from our schemata, but a lesbian? That’s unheard of. Here at last we can hear the voice that has not been heard before.
Catherine Politis was born in Greece in 1963 but moved with her mother at the age of 4 to join her father and start a new life in Sydney, Australia. She had a typical Greek childhood—the family gatherings, the rituals, Greek food, and Greek school, every Sunday church. She recounts of her life “We became the perfect nucleus family of the seventies : a father, a mother and two children. My brother and I were brought up with the Greek culture, ideals and traditions, and of course, the Greek Orthodox religion. So, by the time I reached my teens in the seventies my culture, my lifestyle and who I was meant to grow up to be was pretty much cemented.”
She was the typical good Greek girl. As she states, “I always obeyed my parents, never questioned them, went to all Greek family outings, birthdays, name days, religious ceremonies and whatever good little Greek girls do. Apart from my sporting activities I wasn’t allowed out with my friends, and kept pretty much to myself or would associate with the children of my parents’ friends. Oh, and NO boyfriends, of course. But I had no feelings for boys anyway. I had a lot of boy friends, and because my upbringing was what it was, I knew eventually that I would have to marry a good Greek boy and have lots of Greek children to uphold our traditions in this foreign country.
Yet, she had always known she was gay. The realization of her gayness came at the cusp of the Sydney Mardi Gras riots. The Mardi Gras riots in Sydney were sparked by the Stonewall Riots in NYC. On June 24, 1978, what started as a small local and legal protest calling for an end to discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, and a repeal of the laws that made homosexuality a crime in Australia, turned into a national call-to-arms. Even though the protesters had received permission for the event, the police arrested 53 of the marchers. What aggravated the assault was that their names were published in full by The Sydney Morning Herald, which resulted in their being outed to their friends and employers. These people eventually lost their jobs and means of livelihood. The riots, however, eventually led to the instituting of an annual Mardi Gras Parade the following year. This parade is currently one of the most attended in all the world and brings in an estimated $30million to New South Wales (if the writers of Wikipedia are up to snuff.)
The public’s reaction to the riots, and especially her family’s, made her swallow her sexuality. She knew she could not come out and tell her parents or even her closest friends. The point was driven home more forcefully by the local priest the following Sunday during the liturgy of our local Greek Orthodox Church St Dimitrios in Moonee Ponds. “The priest said it was a disgrace and that if God had wanted men to be with men, or women with women then he would not have created Adam and Eve,” she remembers. “ He went on to say that they are disgraced in the eyes of God and their behavior would be condemned by the Almighty and that as sinners we would not be allowed to enter Paradise and live ever after.”
As a devout Orthodox Christian, the priest’s words brought her in direct conflict with her sexual identity. She could not rectify how in all of the vespers, liturgies, and services she had attended religiously since her youth there was no mention that God did not love everyone equally.
Here is the rest of her story in her words:
According to the Bible, God loves us all equally without prejudice of sex, race or colour. But nowhere does HE say that He does not love the homosexuals or lesbians of the world. I was confused. I know who I was and who I wanted to be with, but society in the seventies made it impossible to come out and tell the world, whether you were Greek or not. So I kept silent.
Like every other lesbian growing up in the seventies we all had our super crushes on people who were unattainable to throw people off the scent; mine was Donny Osmond. I thought he was cute and boy, could he sing those love songs. Along with Donny, I put up posters of Marie Osmond, Cher and Barbra Streisand, all of whom I was madly in love with at one time or another. And my parents and friends thought that was part of a teenager growing up idolizing TV stars, movie stars and singers.
Doing the right thing by my family, I married a Greek boy just short of my twenty-first birthday(heaven forbid I didn’t get married and be left on the shelf!) and played the dutiful wife producing two beautiful children in the eighties. Now in the eighties a new word AIDS had hit our vocabulary and everyone everywhere was overreacting about this new gay disease that was killing people mercilessly. It made me question myself and if I was still feeling the way that I had always felt about the same sex.
I had many gay men friends and one sadly did pass away from AIDS which made me look into the disease and take away my fears of what it could do. Still attracted to the opposite sex, I still couldn’t act on my feelings as I was supposedly happily married with two young children. But it was tough to control my feelings and to not let on to anyone how I really felt.
In 1994 I separated from my husband and a year later divorced, and for seven years threw myself into my children’s activities and into religion, going to church every Sunday trying to understand where I had gone wrong and if I was being punished by God. I once spoke to my priest who I had known for a long time and asked him “If one was gay would God treat him/her differently when one reaches Heaven?”
His response was, “God does not discriminate, He loves everyone the same and forgives all His children.” Now was he saying that being gay was a sin and that God would forgive me or was he saying that God forgives those who sin but loves everyone? Who knows. But it made me think and many years later I asked him again. To this question he replied, as long as one does not commit any sin against the Ten Commandments then there is always room in Heaven and even if they do, if they repent of their sins, they are then forgiven. No mention of homosexuality at all. I could not make up my mind whether to be true to myself and speak out or stay silent so as not to offend anyone. Again I repressed my feelings.
Just before my mother passed away she did say to me that i should find someone to be with so as I don’t end up alone because she knew she wouldn’t be around and eventually my children would lead their own lives and she didn’t want me to be alone. December 2004 she passed away and my life took a turn. Three weeks after her passing I was admitted to hospital for eight weeks in a bad way with Legionnaires and that made me rethink what I wanted out of life. I did not want to die. I was not ready to die. I was now ready to live my life for me.
In 2006 I took a three month trip away on my own to England, France, Italy and home to Greece to find myself and reassert who I was and what I wanted. Three hours after arriving in England I met a girl and had my first lesbian kiss. Since then, I never looked back. It was my revelation, my freedom and my chance to come out. My family in Greece were the first to find out although my close friends already knew before I flew out of Melbourne. But I must admit, I was expecting some really nasty comments and negativity but instead I got support. They all said that I am still the same person that they had known and loved all along. Who I chose to have as a partner in my life did not change who I was. I felt relieved and loved.
Still fighting with my own demons I approached a priest in Athens and had a discussion with him open heartedly as I knew that I would never see him again and opening up to him was like a confession. He said that I had not committed a sin; I simply fell in love with another human being. It made sense and it cleared my mind. When I came back to Melbourne it was time to face my demons again. I had to build up the courage to tell my family, my dad, my brother and my two children.
Telling my brother and my sister-in-law was quite easy and they were quite supportive, my dad was quite reserved at the start with his comments but has come to terms with it, even embracing my partner. By the way I met my partner almost four years ago and have never been this happy.
But telling my children was quite difficult. My son’s comment was “I don’t like it, it’s your life and you’re still my mother.” But my daughter who is a convert to Islam spat in my face, slapped me across the face and ripped my crucifix off my neck saying that I am nothing but a diseased animal and under her religion she could kill me and no one would do anything about it ! I was hurt and horrified. As a result, my daughter and I no longer speak to each other. It is sad as I never judged her when she converted and covered up.
So let’s see how the world receives me now? Since coming out I am free of my demons , my inhibitions and my insecurities. I know longer care what others think of me and I walk with my head held high. I am proud of who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin and I urge others regardless of race, sex or color to do the same.
Catherine continues to live her Greek life in her native Australia. However, for the last six years she has taken an active role in the LGBT community. She is part of both the Greek and Gay Committee as well as the GALS (Greek Australian Lesbian
Support group.) Incidentally, the Greek and Gay group of Australia( www.greekandgay.com) began May 24, 1995 and was one of the first Hellenic gay support groups to form in the world. Founded primarily to provide social discussion and support for males from a Hellenic background, it has branched out to many affiliate groups in Europe. The Greek Lesbians came on board in 1996 but then was re-established on the 26th May 2002 on a more formal basis. About four years ago the Greek Lesbians changed their name to GALS (Greek Australian Lesbian Support). The groups tackle such issues as “coming out,” “relationships,”
Catherine does not feel her Greek Orthodox faith and her homosexuality are mutually exclusive. Despite Archbishop of Australia Athenogoras’ vehement condemnation of homosexuality and the stance of the Orthodox Church in prohibiting this lifestyle, she maintains that no where in the Bible does Jesus Christ condemn homosexuality. Pointing to Jesus’ acceptance of other taboo persons in the historical context (i.e. women, lepers, sects such as the Samaritans considered unclean by Judaism), she believes Jesus would have been understanding of homosexuality. As she states, “Jesus said to love one another and not to judge, but I feel that our men of cloth are very hypocritical in their sermons when our Church does not embrace all it’s congregation. We are all equal in the eyes of God regardless of race, color, religious denomination and social status as long as our souls are clean.” She does not feel as if being gay is a sin, and so it is quite possible to be gay and an Orthodox.
Gaining acceptance by the greater Greek community, however, will always prove elusive, she claims. Although gayness might be accepted in the most intimate circles of friends, she still has to “tread carefully if she is to meet older relatives or extended family because heaven forbid ‘Ti Tha Pi O Kosmos.'”
To those who are “still narrow minded” she challenges by admitting that her homosexuality has not changed her essentially as a person– “Am I still not the same Cathy who you’ve always known?” She has not caused any harm or hurt to others through her sexuality so she feels she should not be judged.
What is your opinion? Can someone be Greek and gay? Greek Orthodox and gay? Please add your comments.