My First Encounter With A Cyprus Country Wedding


Despite the fact that the vast majority of Cypriots now live in the towns, most everyone has a village ancestry. This often includes land and property which is restored for weekend and holiday use. It is the custom, too, to come back the village to be married. This incurs a large reception sometimes involving many hundreds of people. It also raises substantial funds for the happy couple. Although this account was written in the early 1990s, you still find many weddings almost exactly like this.

My first encounter with


An early evening?time knock at the gate, opened to reveal one of two young girls who had befriended us during a tree planting a few weeks before and who had afterwards greeted us cheerfully and told us about their school and families, whenever we saw them in the street. With the girl were her mother and an aunt. In her good fifteen year old’s English she explained that one of her cousins was going to be married on Sunday a month hence and we were invited to attend either or both the ceremony in the Church in Limassol and the reception, which was going to be held in Akrotiri village.

They left us a silver?printed invitation card, announcing the wedding of Andreas and Katerina, whose family were from our village, and went on their way calling at the other houses. It seemed the whole village was being invited, including all the foreigners in residence.

Even in today’s Cyprus, marriage is a serious matter and many age?old customs survive, even in the towns as well as in the villages. Parents with daughters know they have to give them a proper start to married life and this often means a dowry house or at the very least somewhere to live. Sometimes this may mean sharing the parents’ house, or building an extension on to it, if the family is not well off. Many villagers, however, will have land and from early days of the girl’s life they scrimp and save for the money to build the daughter’s house. It’s hard if you have a lot of daughters! Like our Mukhtar, Nicholas, building his three?in?a?row dowry houses, for his three daughters. For their part, the daughter’s family will be looking for a decent hard?working young man with a trade or a skill, for it is his part of the bargain to support his wife and children.

Young people have more freedom today, of course, but the chances are very high that they will not marry out of their kind; the chosen one coming from their own or a neighbouring village, and there is still a strong parental element in the selection and approval of children’s marriage partners. The courtship is taken very seriously and with an old fashioned attitude to behaviour. When an engagement is in the offing the family negotiations begin. What is she bringing to the marriage? What house? How much furniture? What job does he have? What are his prospects? When the families are both satisfied the official engagement ceremony is arranged, very often with the priest present as a witness to the contract.

There are many who avow that it is the engagement contract that seals the bargain more formally than the marriage itself. The contract has been signed and sealed and this may be the signal for the couple to co?habit, with the result that many brides come to the wedding in various degrees of pregnancy, a condition that the bride’s parents regard with pleasure, as a further tying of the knot. It would be difficult enough for the fiancé to get away after the contract had been entered into. A pregnant young lady makes it well nigh impossible ?? a case for the severest retribution on the part of the girl’s family.

There may be a few weeks or months between the engagement and the wedding and during this time the groom chooses his “Best Men” (“Koumbari”) and the bride her Bridesmaids (“Koumeres”). There may be many of each, scores in fact, each one making a financial contribution towards the cost of the wedding, as well as giving a present. Two weeks or so before the wedding the invitations are issued and the objective is to get as many people as possible to come because each one is obliged give a present or money. In the case of Andreas and Katerina’s wedding the three village buses were filled with guests and scores of cars went down from the village.

It is frequently the custom among the slightly more well-to-do, to place an advertisement in the newspapers inviting all readers to attend the wedding reception.

Where everything takes place in the village, there are many more traditions to be observed, especially in the preparation of the food for the reception. One essential ingredient of a Cyprus wedding is “Resi”, a glutinous substance made from wheat, chickens, and lamb or pork, simmered and bullied into a porridge consistency over many, many hours in a large cauldron. This is cooked on the Saturday before the wedding and is reckoned to be a skilled art. In our village Nicholas is rated a fine exponent, perhaps not surprisingly in view of his skills with cement. Actually, a good Resi can be quite pleasant to the unfamiliar palate, but I can’t help feeling happy that it’s a speciality reserved for weddings.

The Wedding Service itself is adjustable, a matter of negotiation between the families and the Priest, and may last for as little as one hour and a bit, to three hours or more. The Reception, on the other hand, goes on for many hours, often all night or longer. Andreas and Katerina’s reception, scheduled for 6.30 p.m. onwards, was not hard to find. It had been a very hot day, but as we drove through Akrotiri village, it was getting cooler and the sky was that Mediterranean canvas of shades of red, purple, blue and orange; there were cars parked everywhere. We eventually found a space and joined the many people walking towards the village centre. In the square, large numbers of orange plastic stacking chairs lined three sides of an open area outside a cafe. Behind them were lines of long tables and more chairs. Seating for hundreds.

On the front rows of some of the seats sat the bride and groom and members of their families, relaxing after the ceremonies and gearing themselves up for the evening ahead. Nearby, the six bridesmaids, all in highly complex works of white nylon. In the centre of the open space was a bedstead with a mattress decorated at the corners with red ribbons and covered with a satin quilt. Family and friends came to the bed and threw money or gifts on to it. Soon, the mattress and its covering were taken off by around ten people who hoisted it above their heads and danced around with it, whilst more money was thrown into it. This is called “ploumisma” and it seemed from the quantities of notes that quite a lot of money was coming in.

The square was now filling up and it was time for the reception proper to begin. Near the entrance to the square a dais had been erected and now the young couple took their places to officially receive guests. They were young, earnest, hopeful, happy and in love: he, tall slim and dark, with a handsome face with a kindly but mischievous air, a new dark suit, white shirt and red silk patterned tie worn slightly self?consciously; she, slender dark and pretty, her wedding dress a tight?fitting cascading mass of intricately sewn white nylon, black hair coiled high. Behind them stood a Koumbaros, the best man among thirty, holding a large cotton sack. To the right of the bridal pair, the parents.

The reception line ready, the guests lined up to shake hands and wish the couple well, using a traditional greeting, the most usual being “Na zisete” (“Long life”). The form quickly became apparent. The guest shook hands with the groom with his right hand, the left hand proffering an envelope which was whisked into the cotton sack by the Koumbaros. We and another British couple, advanced down the line, handing over our envelopes containing twenty pounds, and wishing the couple and their families well. This done, we found seats with one of the village contingents at one of the long tables.

As we did so a truck arrived in the square, a number of men up. One of them was Nicholas; the tailboard was clanged down and a group of large plastic bins, for all the world like dustbins, came into view. Not a collection however, but a delivery. The Resi had arrived. A band had now set up on the pavement outside the cafe and opposite trestles of food and crates of beer were ready for guests. We all lined up and when our turn came we got a paper plate with a lamb chop, salad, roast potatoes, bread, and a plastic cup and pint bottle of Keo beer. When we were safely sat down the Resi arrived and each plate was splatted with a plastic?spooned dollop. It was a marvel of organisation, because there must have been four hundred people now sitting down.

The reds and oranges of the sky had turned to purples and greys and then suddenly it was starlight above us. A clear and perfect night. There in the village square of Akrotiri a carnival atmosphere prevailed. Bright lights shone, the amplified bouzouki and violin rent the night. On the roads into the square sideshows and mobile shops had set up, selling candy floss, sweets and cakes, toys, dolls and the plastic paraphernalia of the novelty manufacturer. The contents of the paper plates disappeared quickly. The more enterprising among us acquired further bottles of beer. We all circulated as we saw friends from the village. All the workforce which had built our house and their wives and children seemed to be among the guests ?? it certainly was a big wedding. Our then priest, Papas Michalis, having jointly officiated at the Church ceremonies was in fine, mellow form. Now nine o’clock, the receiving line was still in full swing, after two hours.

As we finished eating the empty plates were taken away and our places taken by guests with full ones. We wandered around the stalls and side-shows, joined in some of the dancing and watched the reception line. What seemed to be the third cotton sack was rapidly filling. Now the dance floor was filled with families and little girls waving their bouquets of flowers. Now the music was slow and romantic. Now the Macho men took their turn, linking hands and arms in the Greek dances. Girls shyly danced round them in groups. As on other social occasions we were struck by the absence of tensions, the absolute enjoyment of all concerned and the total lack of drunkenness. As an occasion it was impossible not to enjoy it and to feel the happiness.

It was well after eleven when we decided to head for the hills. The party seemed just to be warming up. The bride, groom and the families were still shaking hands. Getting out of the village was more difficult than getting in because of the parked cars and those just arriving. Apparently, more than three thousand attended and the gate money was in excess of £15,000. An appreciable sum even after deducting the costs of the reception; in terms of setting up home of some significance, even to this couple who came from families with some resources.

There had been an “official” photographer and video maker, working all the evening to record every detail of the event.

Our happy couple settled in Limassol and became regular visitors to their home villages. In times past, of course, weddings like this would have been held in the village, where several thousand could come from Vouni alone. But now they are rare, there being no more than 100 permanent residents.

Village Voice - Wedding - bridesmaids

Little ladies in Nylon - Bridesmaids at a village wedding. These dresses may be hired, as may be the bride's. This alone costs hundreds of Pounds.

Village Voice - Wedding line

The line is ready to receive hundreds, possibly thousands of guests. A Koumbare stands behind the groom, with cotton sacks for the envelopes of good wishes, each containing a cash gift.


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