Engagement customs in Greece, someone’s first declaration of intention to get married to his significant other are on the decline.
Still, in many places, especially in the countryside, the overall engagement procedure is almost as important as the ensuing wedding itself.
The premarital ceremony is pledged with religious aspects of the Greek Orthodox faith, making it all more official in setting a wedding date and bringing the couple and their families closer.
The institution of engagement has evolved over the years into a trial period for the couple to be wed-locked. It gives them time to get to know each other better and come closer before finally walking down the aisle.
The Greek word for engagement is “arrabhon” or “aravonas” and derives from Hebrew erabon, which translates as pledge or guarantee and was introduced and adopted by the Greek society and culture through commercial transactions between the two peoples.
Past engagement customs in Greece
In older times, engagement was employed as a means for the couple to get to know each other on a mental and spiritual level before their wedding. In most cases, the woman did not know her future husband well enough before moving in with him.
The man had to ask for the woman’s hand from her father, and then the two families would decide on the dowry the husband would receive from the wife’s family. If all went well and everyone was satisfied and happy, the engagement rings were exchanged and a wedding date was set.
In the past, when this custom was more practiced across the country, the bride would also have to knit a handiwork as a symbol of accepting the engagement and the pending wedding.
If for any reason the engagement was called off, the mother of the groom would have to return the handiwork to the bride. Engagements found usually place in a house, where the maid of honor and best man were to be selected, and were followed by a small festive gathering of close friends and relatives.
However, the engagement was also used for the benefit of many men who did not wish to marry but were otherwise not socially accepted to be involved in premarital relations.
For example, until the 1980’s many men in Greece decided to get engaged so that their relationship was socially acceptable. Sexual relations before that time were more prudent and women did not easily “risk their reputation” out of wedlock.
An engagement in Greece could last for years
The engagement could last for years and the actual wedding was called off in the end due to some easily made-up excuse. This phenomenon gave birth to a Greek saying “strivin dia tou aravonos”, which describes the behavior of a person choosing the easy way out and never fulfilling their pledge.
Nowadays, the custom is not as popular among young couples. It is mostly followed in the province, and like most major events in the social life of Greeks, a priest is invited to bless the engagement rings, which are tied on a red ribbon and placed before a Virgin Mary icon.
The two rings are then given to the couple, who must wear them on their left ring fingers. The mother-in-law is also tasked with bearing gifts to the bride, while the guests present wish the couple “I ora i kali” (may the wedding day come soon) or “Kala stephana” (have a good wedding ceremony). These are some engagement traditions that have survived unscathed.
The Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church has officially annulled the engagement ceremony since 1999 given that it does not recognize or approve premarital relations.
However, the engagement ritual does occur during the wedding ceremony, since the priest first engages and then marries the two partners. Nowadays, it is perfectly acceptable for most couples to skip the engagement part and proceed with the wedding.