The Traditional Cretan Wedding: A comprehensive guide by the Oscar Suites & Village
Exotic beaches, snow-capped mountains, dramatic gorges and Edenlike plains. World-famous ancient monuments and Unesco heritage sites. Emblematic food, renowned for its health benefits and taste, along with euphoric, potent drink. Proud yet affable locals and an age-old culture of hospitality embedded in everyday life. There are myriads of reasons to love Crete, and the unique Cretan customs and folkways are among the most thrilling. Take the traditional Cretan wedding for instance: An intense, typically multi-day affair to remember, it is marked by enthusiasm and abundance: Food, drink, music, dance, merrymaking, even celebratory gunfire, come in copious amounts. The same motif applies to the guest list. In the case of the traditional Cretan wedding, the more is the merrier indeed.
That’s why the protagonists -best man, included- invite hundreds of their closest friends and relatives -in fact, most often than not, the whole village- to partake in the festivities. Even in the case of a Cretan vendetta between villagers, a cease-fire applies for the duration of the jubilations. All attendees, what’s more, must wear a white Cretan kerchief as a sign of joy. This is but one of a wide array of customs surrounding the traditional Cretan wedding. Though the younger generation usually opts for a more toned-down version, some traditional Cretan wedding rituals remain intact. Here’s all you need to know to best enjoy (and that’ not to mention survive!) a big fat traditional Cretan wedding:
Traditional Cretan wedding rituals
The Wedding Bed Ceremony
In honour of a long-standing nuptial tradition, a few days prior to the wedding, the couple’s friends and relatives gather in their soon to be, new home to attend the “making of the bed”. The marital bed is made up with handmade lace and linen coming from the bride’s dowry. As the custom mandates, only young, unmarried girls can perform this task. The rest of the attendees shall jokingly pull the sheets off the bed so that the girls have to remake it over and over again. When the observers decide that the bed is made to their satisfaction the sheets are sprinkled with sugared almonds (koufeta), rose petals and loads of money! A baby, preferably a boy, is then rolled on to the bed for good luck and fertility. As per the bed-making maidens, tradition stipulates that they take some koufeta back home with them to place under their pillow and thereafter dream of their future husband.
The dressing of the bride and the groom
Fiestas with friends and relatives in both the bride’s and groom’s family homes are held prior to the wedding (think of the Cretan equivalent of a bachelorette and bachelor party). In the past, the wedding itself was supposed to be held on a Sunday (although not one in May!). Nowadays, however, weddings, especially in the busy summer months take place on a daily basis. Preparations begin early with the “dressing of the bride and the groom”.
The best man (koumbaros) will shave the groom to honour their bond of trust. Then his other friends will help him put on his clothes. Respectively, the maid of honor (koumbara) shall assist the bride with her wedding dress. Her single friends are then supposed to write their names under her bridal shoes. Tradition has it that those whose names are erased after the ensuing all-nighter, are the ones who are gonna marry first.
The wedding bread (gamokoulouro)
This specially kneaded and artfully decorated bread is traditionally made by the bride and given as a present to the best man. Nowadays it most usually adorns the banquet table. It is delicious but try to show some restraint as there are plenty of other delicacies to follow. In fact the Cretan wedding table is nothing but lavish and extravagant.
The wedding pilaf (gamopilafo)
Which brings us its centerpiece: Crete’s culinary trademark, the renowned “gamopilafo” is essentially a creamy, al dente rice dish cooked in broth from freshly boiled goat and chicken. Delicious in its simplicity, gamopilafo is so much more than food: It is typically served on Sundays and on any occasion of celebration and joy. In fact, a wedding without the pilaf is quite unthinkable; and if you happen to attend one you’ll be asked two critical questions: Whether the bride was beautiful and if the gamopilafo was good. That says it all!
Or gun shootings in the air. No self-respecting Cretan would celebrate the wedding of a loved one without shooting their guns in the air. This is an antique Cretan tradition, associated with the island’s tumultuous past and history of gun ownership. Alas, this extravaganza has proven lethal time and again.
The Envelope (fakelaki)
With thousands of guests, the newlyweds must be mega-rich or go bankrupt. And they would if they weren’t in Crete. But in Greece’s largest island the wedding gift staples -a vase, cutlery or a set of fancy dishes-just won’t do. This is a cash-only affair; and at the end of the church ceremony, the best man holds out a basket or a handmade sack where the guests must place an envelope with money, as their wedding gift. Cash also works for paraggelies (special song requests). In fact, the wedding band gets tipped handsomely at the wedding party, as the couple and their relatives will ask to dance to specific tunes and then pay generously for the favour.
After hours pasta
Wedding festivities typically carry on until daybreak. Around dawn, after several hours of drinking and dancing, guests are thoughtfully served pasta with Cretan gruyère. This simple but downright delectable dish is just what you need to take away the taste and effects of too much raki consumption!
Cretans typically express themselves in mantinades: A Cretan trademark, these intricate 15-syllable rhyming couplets can refer to anything and everything- life, love, death, fear or hope…Weddings are of course no exception and they all start and end with beautiful mantinades about love.
At the Oscar Suites and Village, our family-friendly, elegant yet unpretentious seaside hotel and apartments in Crete, on vibrant Agia Marina Platanias, just 9 km from the historic town of Chania, we aim to showcase the enchanting traditions, customs and attractions of the place we are lucky to call home. That is why we are more than happy to share our insiders’ tips and knowledge through our blog or in person. Don’t hesitate to contact us for ideas and insights on how to make the most out of your stay in the delightful island of Crete.