Wedding Rings, Dress, Flowers and Foot
Recently my husband and I got married again. A lot of Greek people thought we weren’t really married until we were blessed by the church. They do respect other people’s custom but when it involves men with Greek blood, their own rules apply and it’s often easier to comply with their traditions.
My Husband and I were never ‘Right’ for each other
Do you wear your wedding rings on your right hand or left hand?
We had always worn ours on our left ring fingers. Well, my husband did. We bought our rings in Hong Kong on one of the hottest days. My ring was a bit loose unless the weather was that hot and I soon gave up wearing it for fear that I would lose it. It felt a bit weird at times as if I were having an affair with my husband.
Before our church wedding, my godmother organized to have our rings polished and asked if I wanted to have my ring re-sized. I declined as we didn’t have time to go to her friend’s jewelry shop which was a bit far away. Lucky that! Only during the wedding ceremony, we realized that the proper Greek Orthodox way was to wear the rings on our right hands! We also loved the fact that we didn’t exchange rings ourselves as you would expect to see in other culture. The priest did a fair bit of ritual with our rings, placed them on the tips of our right ring fingers for our best man to push them right down, as if he were the guardian of our marriage.
The magical part is that my ring fits perfectly on my right ring finger. The Church blessings really help us to be finally ‘right’ for each other!
Red and White make Pink
Greek brides wear white dress, as you would expect in other western cultures. Originally I picked out a white dress from a shop that sells evening gown. Well, I didn’t pick it. My godmother, her daughter and the shop assistant did.
My godmother’s designer friend kindly let us borrow a few of his dresses for the wedding. Before I started looking around, my godmother took out a white dress which everyone thought was lovely. I tried it on and it fit me nearly perfectly. After that, I tried to exercise my rights as the bride-to-be to try on more dresses but they were adamant that the only dress I tried on was perfect. My godmother and her daughter were also busy trying on dresses themselves. They are kind to me but they value their opinions a lot more than mine and I’m still learning how to get a word in and be heard. I did manage to try on a second dress which didn’t look good on me and everyone there reinforce their opinion and I gave up. Instead, I asked the shop assistant to do a minor alteration. Everyone voiced their opinion again and agreed amongst themselves that it didn’t matter and so I let the matter drop. Afterall, it’s only a wedding dress, not a life or death matter. That was what I kept telling myself.
Something strange happened when I went back to pick up the dress the day before the wedding – the dress disappeared! Eventually when the shop assistant found it, it was of a totally different size. He explained that a new one was made for me and he was going to alter it to fit me perfectly. Apparently I was supposed to return to the shop much earlier. He said they would get on with the alteration right away but I just didn’t have the time to wait that long.
Angels come in different form and this time, they came in form of a TV documentary crew. A Hong Kong TV channel was filming a documentary series about Hong Kong women who married foreigners and were living overseas. My husband and I were one of these couples. I asked the TV host to be my maid of honour because I didn’t have any close friends here and Chinese faces always help me feel closer to my homeland.
My maid of honour and the scriptwriter were in the shop with me. They promptly started searching for an alternative white dress. The choices were very limited though.
‘It’s right in front of you.’ Said my guardian angels. I’ve learnt to communicate with spirits through my healing work. I looked up and there it was – a pink dress.
Pink is one of my favourite colours but I hadn’t considered the option of getting married in church in a pink dress. Obviously no one should question whatever dress I choose to wear for my own wedding but, do I dare? I almost got into an argument not too long ago when I expressed how much I would like to be baptized in the sea instead of inside the church. Some people here have very strong opinions when it comes to their traditions and they have no problem of telling me all about it. My godmother had said the wedding dress must be white. Can I come up with a reason that no one can argue about?
Oh! My mum!
There is this ranking system here for women. A married woman ranks higher than an unmarried one. Once a married woman gave birth, she automatically earns a much higher status. A few times when some friends or relatives expressed strong opinions on how I should live my life, I had quoted my mum’s words as a shield and that always deflect any arguments.
The Chinese traditional wedding dress is red. My mum, however, got married in a pink dress. She lost so much weight from stress before her wedding that the red dress that she was going to wear didn’t fit her. The only dress that fit her in this dress rental shop was a pink one. Apparently only the second wife (not too long ago, Chinese men were allowed two wives) would wear pink and many people told her she shouldn’t because it would be bad omen. When she told me this story, she proudly said how her marriage with my dad was still going strong. It still is. Therefore, pink dress is highly auspicious for the brides in my family!
After I told my maid of honour and the scriptwriter this story, they found a few pink dresses and one of these fit me like a glove and I felt like my most feminine self in it.
Chinese brides wear red, Greek brides wear white. I’m learning to be Greek but I will never forget my roots. Pink is perfect. A union of two cultures.
Men want to get married too!
Not sure which culture started it but every wedding I’ve gone to, at some point a bunch of single women would gather behind the bride when she throws her wedding bouquet and the woman who catches the flowers is supposed to be the next one to get married.
I don’t like this custom at all. Single women are made into looking like they are desperate to get married. Maybe some are and some do fight amongst themselves to catch the flowers. As if it really works! The problem I have with this custom is that why only women? I’ve met many men who want to find love and have their own families too.
My godmother who was taking care of the rundown of our wedding somehow forgot this bouquet throwing bit. A guest tried to remind me by gesturing to the bouquet but I pretended not to understand what she meant (good thing about not understanding the Greek language). She is married so I knew she didn’t want the bouquet for herself.
At the reception, I expressed my view on the inequality aspect of the bouquet throwing custom to my husband who said, ‘Do whatever you like.’ He understands me because he wanted to marry me as much as I wanted to marry him, twice.
When the reception came to an end with just a few of us having a chat, a male friend asked if I could give him the bouquet because he wanted to get married despite not having a girlfriend. See what I mean! Men want to get married too!
So I obliged and he caught the flowers beautifully. Good luck!
‘You must step on his foot really hard!’
Here’s a joke custom for Cretan weddings. Maybe Greek people from other parts do it too but every time I read or heard about it, it had always been about Cretan weddings.
During the wedding ceremony, the priest recites scriptures from the Bible and at one point, he says something to the effect of ‘the wife must obey the husband’. After this speech, the priest turns his back to the couple to do some ritual and at this point, the groom steps on the bride’s foot to reinforce his authority. Basically, to show who is boss. Since the Cretan brides are all aware of this custom, it has now become a competition as to who manage to step on whose foot and the guests all anticipate this moment for a laugh.
I love weddings and am never tired of watching two people in love showing their commitment to the world. However – let’s admit it – that wedding ceremonies can sometimes drone on and get quite boring. So why not have a bit of fun and follow some silly custom?
Well, I tell you ‘why not’. Some people are actually quite hurt by this! I spoke to a few couples here after the wedding and they all agreed before the wedding to not step on each other’s foot. They thought it wasn’t a good start for the marriage, to try to be boss of each other.
For those of you who are interested, you can find the liturgical text of the Greek Orthodox Service of Marriage here. After the paragraph about the wife must obey the husband, it says ‘Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies’. There really shouldn’t be any foot-stepping involved!
I never thought that I would partake this silly custom. However, my godmother took this custom very seriously and she gave me strict instruction the night before the wedding when I stayed over for the night.
‘You must step on Kosta’s foot very hard! He is Cretan man. Cretan men are very stubborn. You must step on his foot tomorrow! And I will step on the other foot!’
What? She wants to be boss of my husband? No way! I started being uncomfortable with this conversation because I felt I was conspiring against my husband. My husband and I argue now and then but now we must unite together to protect our territory! I very much wanted to talk to my husband regarding this matter but we weren’t allowed to communicate at this point.
I had no idea what the priest said at all during the ceremony because my Greek is still limited to a maximum of 5-minute conversation. My husband wasn’t much better off as he grew up in Australia and his Greek is only good for daily usage but not the old scripts that they use at churches. From time to time during the ceremony, we giggled silently about how we didn’t know what else we were committing to apart from being husband and wife again.
When the priest stopped talking for a moment to turn his attention at the altar with some ritual, the air was suddenly filled with expectancy. I heard whispering of ‘πόδι’ (podi = foot) from several direction and my godmother said, ‘Τώρα!’ (tora = now)
‘Τώρα? Πόδι?’ I asked my godmother.
Promptly, I stood on my husband’s feet as gently as possible with all of my 60 kilos. On cue, he held me tightly. This happens at home a lot. Whenever I silently move close to my husband, he hugs me without me having to ask for it. A lot of our silly arguments were dissolved in this way.
While all the guests cheered and gave me thumbs-up, my godmother explained what happened to my husband who didn’t know about this custom. He said, ‘She’s the boss anyway.’
Well, it’s true – whenever I manage to have stronger opinion than him, he lets me win. Okay, maybe not ‘strong opinion’. Like other Greek men, my husband considered himself to be passionate. Chinese people are known for being resilient and my people are better at obeying than Greek people. I do obey my husband, but only because he lets me change all the rules that I don’t care for.
Our church wedding ceremony made its way to the local news that evening and the presenter announced that ‘she stepped on his foot!’