If the image above doesn’t draw you right in to this Greek / Jewish (or Grewish!) wedding, I don’t know what will! I’m obsessed with the energy and aesthetic of it… and the talents of the man behind the lens, Ronen Boidek, whose work I’m honoured to have featured before on Smashing The Glass.
Courtesy of Ronen’s photography, and a very entertaining wedding report by Tamar the bride, not to mention an incredible film by Nikos Vamvakidis at the end of the post, we’re being whisked off to the gorgeous Greek island of Paros today. Blue skies, smiles for miles, sandy beaches, a bride and groom jointly smashing the glass, broken plates, smashed pomegranates, Jewish wedding traditions, Greek wedding treaditions, the sparkliest of azure seas, Greek music, Jewish tunes, a first dance tango to Por Una Cabeza (one of my favourite pieces of music)…. wow! As the bride puts it, this wedding is literally a mesh of joyous inclusion.
And not only did bride Tamar rock a gorgeous Grecian-style dress from High Street label Monsoon but she switched into ANOTHER gorgeous frock before the bash was over too! And Vasilis played his part of the snazzy groom splendidly in his linen suit and trilby… totally dashing!
There are many humorous moments (as could only be found at a big fat Greek Jewish wedding) brilliantly told by Tamar, including a very funny proposal story, the groom’s getting ready story (I have genuinely NEVER heard anything like it!) and tales aplenty about Tamar’s mother’s insane dancing…
Just a word of caution — you may well be booking a little trip to Greece by the time you’ve finished this post…. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
how we met and the groom’s (five!) proposals
Tamar, the Bride: Vasilis and I met in a boho tea room on Brick Lane in London in November what feels like 100 years ago. Five years after that he proposed five times! He had intended to propose on the anniversary of our first meeting. We had planned to go to Budapest that November and he wanted to get on one knee in the middle of the bridge between Buda and Pest. But he couldn’t wait. So the first time he proposed I was in my pyjamas the night before we flew and was so shocked and a bit sad: I wanted to have at least been wearing a bra!
The second time was only two minutes later with bra on and shock not over. The ring was a bit big so we planned to resize it after our anniversary holiday. The third time was that weekend on a bridge between Buda and Pest and the fourth time was a few minutes later on an even better bridge that he liked even more. Then, when we returned to London we had to get the ring resized and after picking it up he presented it to me again on the balcony of the Royal Opera House. He says that he loves proposing to me and that every time I say yes his heart leaps, so although the count is at five proposals, they may not be the last!
A paradise wedding venue on the Greek Island of Paros
Vasilis was born in Montreal but he’s Greek through and through and has a large family. My family is spread all over the world, (Alaska, Israel and Cornwall in the UK), but there are not that many of us.
It made more sense to have the wedding at the greatest convenience for the greatest number of guests. There are thousands of Greek islands to choose from, some are more difficult to reach and some have more Italian- or Turkish-style architecture.
We decided that the island of Paros was perfect; the beaches are paradisal and the Cycladic style of architecture is quintessentially Greek and cuteness incarnate. Boudari Hotel has it’s own private beach and the nearly next door Golden Beach Taverna cooks gourmet quality food from it’s own organic farm produce. They even invited us to meet the goat that made the feta cheese! And the sand is literally flakes of gold. We had guests coming from all corners of the earth, some even applying for their first passports to join us. Thus we wanted to give them the best golden sands, bluest seas and purest white villas that Greece has to offer and for them to enjoy it as a beautiful holiday as well as a celebration.
A Greek / Jewish blue / white theme of sorts!
The Cycladic islands are known for their white stone houses and sparkling azure sea, so the wedding colours naturally tended toward white and blue. The decorations were not at the forefront of our minds however, we care more about an equal balance between both our Greek and Jewish traditions. Some of those traditions are already shared between both cultures such as the theme of community, circle dancing, even smashing the Jewish glass underfoot and the Greek plates on the floor! Our musician friends combined both Greek and Jewish music together to make something uniquely “Grewish” (or should we call it “Jweek”?). In that way, our wedding style came together as a mesh of joyous inclusion.
Handmade invites with wax seals were sent en masse across the globe. I made them out of antique maps of the region that I sourced, hand coloured, inscribed with destination details, tied with ribbons and sealed with a wedding bell wax stamp, the design implying the guest had been invited to follow a secret map to a hidden treasure.
hair + make up
I did my own hair and make up while my sister, sister-to-be and a select handful of close friends made up for lost catch up time during make up time. We live in so many different countries we needed to share every spare minute. They entertained me with laughter and music, and my mother even did a dance just for us. They doubled checked the finishing touches on my hair and face, but here’s how it went: mum was ready before all of us. So mum decides to do a dance. Typical mum! It was a joy to watch her. I think you know you’re mother is happy when she does a spontaneous performance!
The groom getting ready in a very traditionally Greek way!
There’s a Greek tradition that the groom is helped by his friends to get ready for the wedding. My partner has so many disparate groups of friends that he got forced-dressed, stripped and re-dressed… seven times!
The entire process took hours and involved pinching him for good luck (maybe it was tradition, maybe it was just mean), putting his clothes on upside down and backwards, celebratory cigars and of course taking breaks for live music and Greek circle dancing even in his underwear! Really, how many best men does it take to clothe a groom? The priest/rabbi officiator, best man and groom were all sporting stubble and barefoot. They were ‘The Three Whiskateers’.
All the boys plotted and pinched and wondered what to do with/to/on/around/against my man bear until his grandmother intervened and forced his attire on, saying “I love you, even if you still can’t dress yourself.” He ended up in a light linen suit and a trilby but I wouldn’t have minded if he’d come in fewer clothes, it’s his green eyes that stun me every time.
Two wedding dresses from Monsoon
I originally hired a bespoke seamstress to make my gown. We moved countries halfway through that process and she demanded payment without me seeing the final result. I paid as I believed I had no other option, it was posted and the dress didn’t fit! It was very poorly made and I was very sad and scared that I wouldn’t find a replacement in time. Seamstresses and tailors in our new city were horrified at the mess, debated over the difficulty of taking shoddy workmanship to court from a distance and couldn’t even redeem it by reworking the fabric. (I only share this sad episode to forewarn those considering the same and console those who have also receive unprofessional practice in the wedding industry.)
Luckily, my sister joined me on a single day of last-resort wedding dress hunting. It was a challenge as I knew the Greek beach that would be our aisle would be hot and most dresses sold in northern Europe are multilayered for chillier weather. I ended up finding two dresses at the very last moment at the end of a long day of fittings. Surprisingly, they were the most affordable and also the most appropriate for our special day, location and weather. Coming from Monsoon’s bridal boutique, one had an empire waistline that worked well for the beach ceremony and the other was a more traditional light silk Grecian-style dress that worked well for all the circle dancing.
wearing a ‘stefana’
I wore no jewellery or veils. There is a Greek tradition that both the bride and the groom are crowned with stefana. These are simple halos linked by ribbon worn only during the marriage ceremony to symbolise a connection between our souls. A friend gifted us a beautiful set made out of jade and silver. The silversmith who made our stefana no longer produces such work but we are so grateful that our friend was able to commission one last family heirloom from her.
Greek-style sandals.. .and silver tango shoes
I couldn’t wear stilettos walking down an aisle made out of shifting golden sand, or lead our wedding party from the beach across a vineyard, into a taverna and then dance in circles for hours on very high heels! Instead I opted for ancient Greek-style sandals for the beach and a silver pair of low tango shoes for our couples dance.
Walking down the aisle with my mother and sister
My mother and sister preceded me down the sandy aisle with cala lilies that matched my single lily bouquet. My close friend played the violin that accompanied me down the aisle. The groom’s young half-sister and niece were dressed in matching white and beige stripes and threw petals from their baskets as they passed in front but later, at the end of the ceremony, they morphed into little thugs ready to attack with copious rice thrown from said baskets!
The Jewish Greek wedding ceremony
Our guests parted into two rows of beloved ones as I passed through them to join my husband-to-be at the head of the beach. A close friend officiated as both Jewish rabbi and Greek Orthodox priest. He combined all the traditional elements of Jewish and Greek marriage ceremonies while cracking jokes and translating from English to Greek for the benefit of all our guests.
It was a glorious summer day but not too hot. (Greece guarantees good weather.) The Aegean sea glowed azure and sparkled with a light breeze across the water and I was delighted to see that many guests felt free to dip their toes and stand barefoot in the warm waves as we performed all the Greek and Jewish ceremonial moments (being crowned with the stefana, circling the chuppah to their multilingual, communal counting), and we read vows we’d written for each other which of course made us both cry.
My favourite part was when we’d finished smashing the glass (the Jewish tradition) and smashing a pomegranate (a Greek tradition), we were bombarded with rice and hugs and kisses. Then, whilst leaving the beach our musician friends played and we danced a little waltz on the sand before leading the entire wedding party up from the beach, in one long line, to the tune of our musicians, dancing all the way across the little coast, through a vineyard to arrive at the organic farm taverna. Looking back as we walked was my favourite part, looking back as we spun ahead and seeing a long line of everyone who taught us how to love, following us to celebrate the love we share.
A meaningful chuppah design
Our chuppah is a family heirloom made by my great-grand-aunt while living in the Belgian Congo. It is a large piece of traditional Cornish lace that uses the celtic technique of knitting by knot work and featured her leaping pet hound at the heart. We could not secure chuppah poles in the sand with the breeze blowing on the beach that day so three dearly loved family friends and the groom’s sister held up the corners of our symbolic future home.
Music for the ceremony
Our musician friends joined forces across Jewish and Greek musical traditions to bring us a combination of the two. Eugene Feygelson played a classical violin processional piece that accompanied me to the beach and at the end of the ceremony he joined stupendous Cypriot vocalist Vicky Anastasiou and prodigious Greek Rebetiko musicians Pavlos Melas and Pavlos Carvalho (from the Greek music series Rebet Asker and the group Plastikes Karekles in playing traditional Greek wedding songs that led everyone dancing off the beach. Months later my now-husband recorded both Eugene and Vicky performing two of our beach songs (the ones that caused the most tears) in an intimate performance in London (you can listen to both of them here and here.
Our fabulous Photographer…
Despite almost melting in the Greek sun, Ronen Boidek was actually the star of the show, immortalising us all. He came all the way from Israel and just did not stop. His genius was apparent the first time I witnessed his work, but it was the final album that he posted us, printed on card and bound in crafted leather, that left me utterly speechless.
He just kept going, giving his time and energy and enthusiasm and I think you can tell that he was ever present and observant and kind when you see his sense of humour and the gentle portraits of every guest in flattering angles which he somehow grabbed, unbeknownst to the subject, at every opportunity. One guest dubbed him the “Incognito Ninja:” how did he get the most surreptitiously opportune snaps? I didn’t realise how much and how often I laugh leaning back with my mouth thrown open in abandon. Thank you, Ronen! That fleeting happiness was lit perfectly and is now bound in the leather album he made us.
We also had a videographer, Nikos Vamvakidis who came from the same town just outside of Athens that my grandmother-in-law comes from (the film is at the end of the post). Ronen, our photographer, recommended the lovely Jewish music at the beginning.
You can even see both our photographer and videographer at work here in this behind the scenes video.
Entertainment and music
After the ceremony we arrived with all our wedding guests from the beach to the taverna and were greeted with “our song” which is called Tes Lacets Sont des Fà©es by Dionysos. It’s silly and lighthearted and the music video is illustrated by a hero of mine. We did an un-choreographed swing dance to that one as it shouldn’t have been “the first dance” but happened to be the first! Later we performed our couple’s dance, a beautiful tango to the song Por Una Cabeza. This had been perfectly choreographed by Jens-Christian Beelte of Media Luna -Tanzstudio am Sà¼dstern in Berlin.
Eugene, Vicky and both the Pavloses brought together our cultures on the dance floor and all the guests danced traditional Jewish Ashkenazi dances as well as heartfelt Greek dances from Crete, the Peloponnese, the Cyclades and even Komotini.
Later, our friend the broadcaster, journalist, and DJ Prokopis Doukas brought everyone the modern tunes. We saw posters of him all over the island and we’re still lucky enough to wake up to him on the radio!
My mother on the dance floor
One of the headlines in the next morning’s paper should have read: Mother of the Bride Pulls Focus in Dance-off. It’s true. She taunted me. Challenge accepted. Then, she danced rings around me. Now we have far too many photos of my mother’s epic stamina and my utter failure in dance combat. At least she’s on record: evidence of excellence.
Our Greek wedding cake and catering
A local baker Maro made our cake. She gave us both chocolate with chocolate on top and orange pie (“portokalopita”), a particularly Grecian surprise for all our foreign friends.
I bought a little bear and a little fox in a top hat and veil from a wedding cake topper artisan on Etsy and brought it with me all the way to the island in my handbag.
Paintings by the bride as thank you gifts for the guests.
Here are the miniature paintings I made of the island as thank you gifts for all our guests…
They are being included in a Brussels-based exhibition of oil paintings of Greece before being distributed.
Additional wedding celebrations…
The dinner we shared the night before the wedding turned into another party that had it’s own Greek music conga line. This is distinct from the one that occurred the night after, inspired by the song “Come on Eileen” and dedicated to our guest Aylin coming all the way from Istanbul. Afterwards, the night-before-drinks-party turned into yet another party, each having their own after parties before the day-of party. One quick note: Dear Those of You Who Had the Secret Skinny Dipping Party the Night Before, I loved hearing your laughter as I fell asleep. And your underwear thrown on my balcony was a bonus.
Our wedding highlights
Personal highlights from our Greek Jewish (or Grewish!) wedding include sharing yoga on the beach the morning of the big day, everyone enjoying the pools, beach volleyball, kayaking, snorkelling and “painting” fairy wings with school glue and sand on our shoulders. We wanted to make golden-sand-wings on Golden Beach! One guest was almost arrested by airport security for carrying bottles of school glue for no clear reason. It didn’t totally work, but was worth the effort. Literally, worth a lot. There were real gold flakes in there.
Greek traditional charms against the “evil eye” were thwarted with porcelain eyeballs, a special hand painted gift from a loved family friend. My sister and I hid them in the traditional Greek mint and chocolate almonds to startle friends.
My sister, in fact, did 16 weeks of Greek dance lessons in order to lead the way on the day. She also arranged a Greek dance lesson bachelor+ette party in London to help all the guests who are not Greek to feel confident and comfortable.
The repetition of names in big Greek families is always a point of humour for foreign guests.
“My name is Vasilis, you might have met my cousin Vasilis? No, not the best man Vasilis. Nope, not the nine groomsmen Vasilis. The main event Vasilis. The ‘That Guy’ Vasilis. *The* Vasilis, you know, the one Tamar chose. Fine. Just call me Bill.”
One of our friends from America bought a “baglama”, a traditional Greek musical instrument and learned how to play it on the trip. Another inexplicably brought costumes for the wedding party. WHICH HE CARRIED IN HIS SUITCASE ALL THE WAY FROM HOLLAND. He recalls the packing of said suitcase: “I didn’t know what to wear to your wedding. Then I saw the rubber chicken. Then I knew.”
One group of friends made matching t-shirts, another group took their hotel sheets to make togas, and a close one home made cookies and hand carried them all the way from Paris to Paros.
Someone, I don’t even know who, made edible table decorations. I illustrated colouring books for the little ones to keep them quietly entertained during the speeches.
We have so much gratitude to all the people who added their own little touches. Thank you to whomever sourced the antique head table! Thank you to whomever thought of stocking the joint with wine from the island! Thank you to my sister for being the one on top of the wobbly ladder and decorating the taverna! Thank you to the film producer, dentist, electrician and accountant who figured out the fairy lights that lined the path from the taverna back to the hotel. Thank you! You lit the late owl’s way home across the fields… (And yet, I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere… How many best men does it take to screw in a lightbulb…?)
Other highlights include exploring the villages the days before and after. My husband was a superstar driving everyone everywhere in a rented white jeep convertible. Naoussa, the main fishing village of the island, was spectacular by the light of the moon.
Also, our wedding night was the night of the full moon which also happened to be the night of the Super Moon and it turned the sea silver.
My best friend Karen Woo had passed away a few years ago. There were meant to be lanterns at her wedding. Instead we lit them at her funeral. So we lit these lanterns and lifted them into the night sky to remember and honour her as we would have loved her to be there with us.
At the very end, the remaining guests played guitar and sang songs on the beach and we watched the sun join the moon in the sky. Then the moon met the sunrise. We sang the sun up.
A final note from the bride
We were deeply touched by the efforts of so many people to travel so very far, some crossing continents, some crossing decades. Some friends met in Athens beforehand and some friends met in Santorini on a black sand volcanic beach beforehand… by surprise! I hereby, on record, deny it. I did not orchestrate THAT one (except for the black stallion that happened to gallop past them.) Some friends had dune buggie adventures on the volcanic isle before joining us on Paros. Some friends took a boat. Some flew. One friend came from Geneva for the night before and another friend from London for the day after. They couldn’t make the day itself but did their best to be there nonetheless. Thank you so so SO much for coming to join us and fighting to be there even if you could only make it the day after or before the wedding. Your effort and company and hugs meant so much. Happily, some friends went on to party on other islands after our wedding.
Advice to couples currently planning their wedding
If you do a destination wedding you tend to welcome only the people who truly love you enough to make the effort to travel. Also, it was a good stress release, quite cathartic really, to abide by the Greek celebratory rule: plates must be broken.
Tamar & Vasilis’s LITTLE WHITE BOOK
Photography — Ronen Boidek
Videography — Nikos Vamvakidis
Venue — Boudari Hotel
Bride’s dresses — Monsoon
Ceremony music —Eugene Feygelson, Vicky Anastasiou, Pavlos Melas and Pavlos Carvalho
DJ — Prokopis Doukas
Cake — Paro’s Catering