Living abroad often means missing important family moments.
Coming from a small community family was always the core of our values and lifestyle. Families are usually large, and often they all live in the same community. Likewise, I grew up always surrounded by family, and living in the countryside meant running around playing tag in long fields with all my cousins. And just so you know, I have thirty cousins. I couldn’t have a happier childhood.
Living abroad by myself was a massive shift from my life at home. Undoubtedly, I miss my family tremendously. However, as someone who was always surrounded by people, I would always find like-minded people and created my very own large family.
Nevertheless, the family is always family, and there are some moments that you can’t miss.
Last summer my eldest sister was got married, and there was no way I was going to miss such a big event and celebration. Weddings, like in any other country, are a big celebration that basically exhausts you. And even though I was indeed extremely exhausted after the wedding, it was the best part that I’ve ever been to.
The wedding was on a warm Saturday day in June 2018, and as I am currently living abroad, I flew home on Thursday evening. But the thing I was not the only one who was flying to the wedding. My family had to drive to the airport at least ten times. At that time, my father was away from home for work, and other family members live and work abroad. Furthermore, as my family used to live overseas, my parents have several friends from other countries who were also invited to the wedding. Therefore, many planes from across the globe met at Larnaca International Airport for my sister’s wedding. My family, even before the wedding started, were tired from driving back and forth.
But then the real exhausting day arrived. As a traditional country that we are, we have a pinch of traditional customs in the wedding process. Firstly, as a conservative country, almost all our weddings follow the Christian route meaning the ceremony is done in a church. But I do like the ceremony. As part of the Greek Orthodox church, we still have ceremonial attributes that come from the ancient Greek civilization. For example, during the ceremony, the priest places two olive wreaths (stefani) that are attached with a string on the bride’s and groom’s heads, and they symbolize God’s blessing. A combination of a religious and spiritual ceremonial tradition.
However, the most fun traditions are done before the wedding. Before the ceremony, the bride and groom are prepared by the maid of honour (koumera) and the best man (koumparos) in their respective childhood homes. And yes, it needs to be their parent’s home because after all the tradition is that they are finally leaving from their parent’s nest and are becoming adults (even though we all know that is not the case anymore). So, after the more modern ceremonies of going to the hair salon and complete the make-up, the entire family gathers into the bride’s home for the begging of a long and beautiful day.
With the traditional song for the preparation or dressing of the bride, the wedding officially begins. Firstly, the maid of honour is supposedly preparing the bride by adding final touches such as lipstick, the veil, and shoes. But one interesting tradition is before wearing the shoes, the bride writes the names of single ladies on the sole of her shoe. The first name that will fade after the long day of wearing the shoes and dancing will be the next lady that gets married. So, everyone wants their name to be the first. It was hilarious hearing the shouts of friends and cousins so that their name would be written on the shoe. After the bride is dimmed as ready, the family and friends give their blessings to the bride. That is done by tying a red sash (symbolising virginity) to the bride’s waist three times and then act the cross three times with the sash from the forehead to the waist and from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. Everything is done three times, symbolising the Holy Trinity. (The good thing about being the youngest in the family, was that I could watch the others so I could learn what to do because I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that red sash). After the ritual of the red sash, incense, and dried olive leaves are burnt in a small container (kapnistiri), and again, the family acts the symbol of the cross over the bride. This is done not only to bless the bride but also to burn away any negative energy. Another example of the combination of spiritual and religious practices.
After the rituals of the preparation of the bride, we are ready to leave for the church. Like in most western countries, the groom is the one who arrives first at the church and patiently or anxiously waits for the bride. And with the arrival of the bride that is accompanied by her father, the ceremony of the wedding begins. The ceremony usually lasts for half an hour. Unlike western ceremonies, the couple does not share vows, and neither do they have to say the long-awaited “I do.” Instead, there are other rituals, such as the sharing of ceremonial bread (prosforo) and koumandaria (Cypriot wine) that symbolise the body and blood of Jesus. Wearing the olive wreaths that symbolize their new union, exchanging the wedding rings three times before placing them to each other’s right hand and finally the “dance” of Isaiah. At the end of the church ceremony, the new married couple and their family offer to the priest loukoumi, traditional sweets that are given as a gift to the wedding guests. Lastly, sugar-coated egg-shaped almonds wrapped with a red ribbon are offered to single women and men. They represent fertility, everlasting marriage and purity and sweetness of their future together. Additionally, they are given only to singles so that they’ll place the red ribbon underneath their pillow at night so that they can dream of their future spouse. (I tried it, but it didn’t work).
The next part of the long-awaited wedding is the cocktail part. As I said, families in Cyprus can be huge since, in the past, people would often have six to ten children. In my family, both my parents come from a family of eight. Therefore, only my immediate family is more than eighty people. But since family is the core of our culture and values, people are also close to their second cousins and even third cousins, especially if you are from a more rural area where you basically know everyone. Therefore, the cocktail party is an additional part of the wedding before the dinner party for guests that include distanced-family members and acquaintances. At some weddings, there could be up to five thousand guests. Which is absolutely crazy. At the cocktail party, the bride and groom alongside their parents accept the congratulations of the guests at the entrance, while one of the family members gives out the traditional sweet, loukoumi as a gift (that was my job at my sister’s wedding – it was so exhausting standing there for at least three hours).u
The final part is the dinner party. After a long day, it’s time for sitting down, relaxing, eating delicious food, and finally, dance and celebrate. Like in most countries, firstly the bride and the groom have a celebratory entrance, then they dance to the first dance with their chosen song, the cut of the cake and then the serving of the food starts. Usually, there is also a speech from the bride’s and/or groom’s father and a video of the couple’s best moments made by the maid of honour. And finally, the party begins. People in Cyprus, in general, love to dance and have fun. Therefore, the party is not only for youngsters. Everyone is on the dance floor. From the oldest to the youngest. Although the music is chosen by the couple, the traditional Cypriot songs cannot be missing from the playlist. In fact, dancing to Cypriot and Greek dance is the best way to have fun. We were dancing the whole night. Non-stop. And after the wedding for an entire month, my feet hurt. That’s how much I danced that night. Not that I am biased, but it was definitely the best wedding I’ve been to.
Overall the weddings in Cyprus, although exhausting, they are a lot of fun. Everything is about happiness, celebration, family, and love. Many despise these traditions, especially younger generations, and at some point in my life, I was also reluctant to follow traditions. But now, as I live abroad, I came to appreciate our traditions more than ever. They are proof of our heritage. But mostly they are proof of love. No matter where I am on this globe, I can easily just fly back home for my sister’s wedding. After all, it is an anniversary and event that family should be together at.