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Anne Gani Sirota


Changing wedding traditions in Florina.

Gani Sirota, Anne: "Changing wedding traditions in Florina", 14th International Congress on Dance Research, Aridaia, Greece, 13-17/9, 2000.

1. Abstract

In the village of Itea, in Florina in Western Macedonia, a wedding between a local groom and a Pontian bride incorporated rituals and traditions from two Greek regions and from "Western" contemporary customs. This wedding was one example of how the culture of different regions and villages of Greece are evolving to blend together traditional and more contemporary elements. Even though the bride and groom and their families adopted many contemporary wedding rituals, they also made sure to maintain elements that have been occurring in their regions for generations.

2. Introduction

Wedding customs all over Western Europe and North America have become firmly established... the bride in an elaborate white gown, a multi-layered white cake, a sit-down catered dinner, a decorated car. In regions of Greece today, these modern wedding rituals are observed side by side with traditions and customs that have been part of the regional culture for generations. That is what I observed at a Greek village wedding I attended in August of 1998, in Itea, a Florina village in Western Macedonia. From my perspective, both the traditional aspects of the wedding and the modern rituals merged comfortably and symbiotically.

Wedding preparations started early in the week with personal invitations to members of the communities. According to the "koumbaro" (best man, witness), a native of Itea and my source on many elements of a village wedding in Florina, the koumbaros and koumbara take care of all the details before the wedding in accordance with established practices. On the Friday before the wedding, members of the koumbaro's family visited various friends in the couple's villages to invite them to the wedding. One of those visits was to the bride, who was requested to attend the wedding, "or another bride would be asked to take her place".

3. The bride's Pontian "glendi"

The bride's family, living in Ammohori, a village near Florina, originally came from Pontos. Ammohori is a mixed village with a large Pontian community, mostly from the Caucasus region, as well as "dopii", the indigenous population. The groom, his family and the koumbaro's father are from Itea, a predominantly dopios village, and the koumbaro's mother and her family are originally Pontian.

The bride's glendi, hosted by her parents, took place in Ammohori on Saturday evening, August 15. The large hall was arranged with long tables around a small dance floor. As in many contemporary celebrations, waiters served dinner and drinks as the wedding party and their guests danced to live regional music. A Pontian band accompanied the evening's glendi, a lyra player at first, followed a clarinet player, with a keyboard player, a drummer with a set of traps, and an accordionist. For most of the evening, the singer stood in the center of the dance circle, which was to me a reminder of the time when Pontian villagers danced in closed circles around the lyra player.

During the evening, the bride and groom and their respective families danced mostly Pontian dances (Tik, Dipat, Kotsari, Seranitsa, Omal Kars, Tas), as well as Levendikos, the most common dance from Florina, Kalamantiano, often danced to the tune Ramo Ramo, and Tsifteteli. There are several Pontian villages in Western Macedonia and at festivals and celebrations in the Florina region, I have observed both Pontians and dopii frequently do Pontian dances, which have become part of the cultural landscape of Western Macedonia and are a favorite of many local dancers. In keeping with my previous experiences, people of all ages from both villages knew the dances of both cultural traditions. And as in most Greek events, children danced along with the adults for the whole evening... including Tsifteteli's.

There was no particular protocol being observed in regards to the dance line that night. Men and women danced next to each other with no restrictions imposed by family relationships. In the past in certain regions of Greece, women and men danced in separate lines, sometimes joined by a handkerchief. At times, women could only dance next to men who were related to them. According to my source, there used to be more of an ordered sequence in the dance line-up in Florina. Families danced together and no one would break in between family members or a couple. Today, family groupings still come together to dance, but friends of the family often join in.

The bride was wearing a contemporary white floor-length sleeveless gown and the groom a dark suit with a white shirt and tie. The dress among the guests ranged from formal dress (suits and long dresses) to more casual attire, all in current styles. No one was dressed in traditional village dress, but in keeping with mourning customs in Florina, one woman was dressed all in black, with a white scarf in honor of the wedding.

4. The pre-wedding festivities

The wedding ceremony was scheduled for the next day, Sunday, August 16. While waiting for the wedding party to arrive from the groom's house, a few of us lingered in the cafeteria, located in the middle of the main street of Itea, near the koumbaro's house. According to Jane Cowan in her book "Dance and the body politic in Northern Greece", cafeteria evolved as a counterpart to the kafeneion, where only men congregated. In contrast, in kafeteria both men and women sit, drink, eat, and socialize.

As we talked with the owner of this cafeteria, the sound of the musicians' drums periodically drifted over to us from the groom's house. After waiting more than an hour, the drums began to signal the arrival of the group, faintly at first, then slowly growing louder, as the groom's party made its way to the koumbaro's house. As they approached, the drums dominated the sound of a typical Florina brass band, the Tzabazis Brothers Band , which included a clarinet player, two trombone players, and two drummers. Some of the members of the groom's party were dancing a Patinada as they walked down the street in a kind of procession, though there was no structure to the group. This longstanding practice of a procession from the groom's house to the koumbaro's house to the bride's house, accompanied by a local band, also takes place in other regions of Greece.

Some of the men in the groom's party were wearing white aprons embroidered with eyelets around their waist. These aprons are a custom remaining from a time when members of the families would handle all the preparations for the wedding. The aprons were gifts from the groom's family to the men, called "koulouksides", as an honor to them for organizing the wedding, inviting the guests, collecting tables, chairs and stools. The bride's family gives aprons to the women from the groom's family, who in the past would prepare the food and clean the house in preparation for the wedding. Today, the preparations are more limited since weddings take place in "kendra" (restaurants, tavernas) or rented halls and are catered, but the custom of giving aprons to the members of the families continue.

Arriving at the koumbaro's parents' house, the wedding party gathered in the back yard. The scene there was a mix of traditions. While the koumbaros, his 10-year old daughter (standing in as koumbara and wearing a white dress) and the rest of their family were greeting the groom and his party, the band played a long Levendikos. The koumbaros, koumbara, and other members of the
group took turns leading the line, and several guests, including the children, joined in. A gray Mercedes-Benz decorated with crepe paper flowers and other adornments, similar to the way cars are decorated in contemporary Western weddings, was parked in the back yard under the trees. The members of the wedding party and the guests were all wearing contemporary clothing, including a flower girl wearing a long white dress and carrying a flower basket.

The koumbaros in Florina is always awarded the greatest respect, since he is the "main man" at the wedding. Everyone listens to whatever he demands as he can stop the wedding if he chooses to do so. If the groom is not ready for the ceremony when he arrives at the koumbaro's house, the koumbaros sends him back home to change and get ready to receive the koumbaro at his house. This process was once taken very seriously but has now become part of the light-hearted rituals of the wedding preparations. At this wedding, the groom purposefully arrived at the koumbaro's house wearing white slacks and a red and white print shirt. The koumbaros, himself wearing a dark suit and white shirt, admonished him that he was not wearing appropriate attire for a wedding and sent him back home to change. Since it would not be respectful for the koumbaro to wait at the groom's house while he changed, the groom had to leave and come back when he was ready.

Leaving the koumbaro's house, the band played a tune in 9/8 (like Karsilama), while some of the party danced a Patinada again. The music drifted away while we waited at the house for the groom's party to return. Clouds seemed to be threatening in a splendid purple and gray sky, while thunder rumbled, accenting the sound of the fading drums and adding a solemnity to these more whimsical aspects of the celebration. Shortly thereafter, the sound of the drums resonated again in the quiet of the village. As the music grew louder, the groom's party came into view, some people walking, some dancing a patinada again. More men were wearing white aprons. Hooking arms with the groom on both sides, his brother and friends seemed to be marching him down the street. He was now dressed more formally in a black suit, a white shirt and a tie.

The groom and several members of his party lined up in the yard so that the koumbaro's mother could fasten tiepins to their lapels. Because it was now getting late, everyone had to hurry to the groom's house. The band played the tune Endeka, a popular song in the Kozani (Central Macedonia) region, as the group left the koumbaro's house. A few guests danced a patinada. Some people drove, including the decorated car. Two men again hooked arms with the groom as they walked back to his house, and the koumbaros and koumbara joined the procession.

At the groom's house, friends and relatives waited and milled around in the yard, at the front gate, on the benches outside the house, in the street. Several older women, dressed all in black with black kerchiefs, sat watching the unfolding events. As part of the custom, the koumbaros refused to walk on the dirt and rocks and demanded that small rugs be laid down out of respect for him. The rugs were removed immediately after the koumbaros and his family had proceeded to the back of the yard to pay their respects to the groom's elderly grandparents. Drinks, refreshments, cigarettes were offered to the koumbaro and his family as they sat and socialized for a few minutes with the groom and his family. The band continued to play, and the koumbaros led a dance... Tik, this time, in honor of the koumbaro's mother and aunt.

Soon after, the entire wedding party left the house and drove away, with the groom holding a bouquet, riding in the decorated car. Horns blared as the procession left the village of Itea to drive to the bride's village, a few miles away. It is customary for all the cars in the wedding procession to always drive on the right, making right turns only. Driving a car from the koumbaro's to the groom's to the bride's house is obviously a more recent custom. In other villages, depending on the wishes of the koumbaro and the location of each house, this procession travels on foot or by car.

As we approached Ammohori, car horns again announced the arrival of the wedding party and guests. Here, in the bride's village, traditional customs dominated. In front of the bride's house, the Pontian band from the previous night's "glendi" (celebration, feast) played a Tik as people danced in the street. At the same time, the groom's party danced a Patinada to the sounds of the brass band towards the Pontian dancers. The Pontian townspeople continued to dance. The groom's party continued to advance. For a few minutes, you could hear both bands playing while the two groups kept on dancing to their respective music. Then, all at once, the groom's party came up to and broke up the Pontian dance line and "took over" the dance area. The Pontian band fizzled out and the Florina musicians had the floor. Often the groom's family has to pay the bride's family in order to take over the dance floor and this exchange goes on for a while longer. But in this case, the "break-through" was achieved easily and quickly because the wedding was already behind schedule. According to one source, this practice is symbolic of the assimilation of the bride into her husband's family and regional identity.

At the door of the bride's house, the groom, the koumbaros and members of their families were invited to come in and eat a chicken that they had prepared...but first, they had to pay to taste it. Some money was given, but it was not enough...the groom's family had to buy several pieces of the chicken. Finally, when enough money had been paid for the whole chicken, the groom's family and the koumbaros were invited to come inside to eat it. A wrapped loaf of bread was opened and split between the koumbaro's father and the bride's father. The groom offered the bride the bouquet.

Outside, the brass band and the Pontian band continued to play both Pontian and Florina dances. Members of the groom's, the bride's, and the koumbaro's families as well as others joined in dancing Tik, Levendikos, Tas, Seranitsa, and Kalamantiano (Ramo-Ramo). Other townspeople mingled, while waiting, watching and socializing.

After quite a while, the bride and groom and the koumbaros, surrounded by their immediate families and friends came out of the house. For just one short visible moment, contemporary rituals took over. The bride was wearing a fashionable white sleeveless lacy wedding dress with a full skirt and long train and a short veil, which was not covering her face. The photographer and videographer recorded the events both inside and outside the house.

Traditionally, the band continued to play Greek "demotiki" (traditional) music, and as soon as the bride was ready to dance, they started Orea Einai I Nifi Mas, a song popular all over Greece. For the first time, there was an order to the dance line, as the bride, followed by her family, then the groom and his family, led this Kalamantiano. The band then played Mantili Kalamantiano, another popular song. According to the usual practices of the region, the bride and the women of the groom's family wearing the white aprons then danced in one line alone in order to show off their aprons. This demonstration was meant to indicate the bride's good qualities, what a hard worker and good wife she would be.

5. The wedding ceremony

As car horns again blared, the procession drove back to Itea for the church wedding. This time the cars drove out of the village in a different direction from which they had come in order to continue making only right turns to complete the circle. Arriving in Itea, the groom and the bride walked down the street, flanked by the koumbaros and koumbara, followed by the flower girl and another relative, with the bride's train trailing behind her down the street. All the guests were dressed in contemporary elegant attire.

The wedding party entered the church as a group. The church in Itea was small and darkly lit, except for the bright lights of the photographers. Chairs were set up in the center of the church and "barrister" chairs lined up against the two side walls. Guests and worshipers would sit for a while or walk around. Some socialized in quiet hushed tones. Others circled the altar taking pictures or videos or just trying to get a better look. The couple was standing facing the priest in front of the altar while a large group of family members and friends crowded around them as the priest performed the ceremony. The videographer and official photographer stood behind the priest and recorded the event under hot white lights. Members of the couple's family would occasionally fan the bride and groom with very small battery-operated fans or wipe their faces. The koumbara, the groom's brother and his wife, the bride's parents all stood very close. While this activity continued around them, the bride and groom stood silently as the ceremony proceeded, until it came time for them to say their wedding vows. The koumbaros stood behind them and crowned them with the "stefana" (wreaths, crowns) at the appropriate moment. The bride and groom circled the altar in the "Choro tou Isaia" (Esaiah's dance).

At the end of the ceremony, "koufeta" (sugar-coated almonds) were distributed, and friends and relatives pinned money on the bride. The wedding party filed out of the church into the courtyard. It was now dark, but friends and relatives of the bride and groom insisted that they proclaim loudly and clearly that they loved their mother and father but loved each other more, a common tradition in Florina. The band again played "Orea Einai I Nifi Mas". The koumbaros started the dance, and then the groom "danced the bride" for this Kalamantiano. Because it was late, this part of the wedding was also cut short, as everyone had to proceed to the glendi.

6. The wedding "glendi"

The wedding party and the guests proceeded in their cars to Kaliniki where the glendi was taking place. The hall was quite large, able to seat more than 400 people at both round and long tables. A long head table was placed on a dais at one end of the room for the bride and groom, members of their families, the priest and the koumbaro. The dance floor was considerably larger than the one the night before. The room was almost filled.

Waiters served dinner and drinks to all the guests to the sounds of the band, settled at one end of the hall. Their instruments now included a clarinet, a trombone, a keyboard, and trap drums, all amplified. At that point, several Western rituals took place. The bride and groom and the koumbaros entered the hall as the band played "Here Comes the Bride," often played at American weddings as the bride marches down the aisle before the ceremony. In the two days that I spent observing this wedding that merged traditions seamlessly, only this one song struck a discordant note for me, because I thought that it jarred with the rest of the music being played on both evenings.

Immediately after entering, the bride and groom cut the cake and fed a piece to each other and drank a toast of champagne with their arms intertwined as the band played a waltz. They then danced that waltz together, and the koumbaros and some other couples joined them on the floor. That was the only non-traditional dance done during the course of both days.

The priest recited the blessing before dinner. After the couple sat down at the head table, the guests tapped on their glasses continuously until the bride and groom kissed, a common occurrence in many Western weddings. The koumbaros led a line of family members as the band again played "Orea Einai I Nifi Mas", but soon everyone joined in. This was the only other time I observed an order in the dance line during the two days. As in the previous night, there did not seem to be an order of dancers nor restrictions on the women's place in the dance line during the rest of the glendi.

Levendikos and Za Ramo, the local regional dances, were played most frequently that night, but the musicians also played several Pontian dances - Dipat, Tik, Kotsari, Seranitsa, as well as Tsamiko and Kalamantiano, including the song "Milo Mou Kokkino", a popular song in Macedonia. The atmosphere in the hall was lively and everyone was enjoying the dancing and music. The floor became quite crowded at times as many of the guests became captivated with the music and the dancing.

7. Evening highlights

There were two notable moments that were the highlights of the glendi here. Early in the evening the groom and several of his male friends danced Za Ramo, the version of Hasaposerviko done in the Florina region. The bandleader, on request of the groom, called out all the young men to the dance floor. They started out in one line, holding shoulders, but one at a time, starting with the groom, each man would peel out of the line to dance in the center, as the mood became more and more enthusiastic and intense. Each of them danced solo, moving in rhythm to the music, sometimes squatting, sometimes dancing in place, eventually forming an inner circle. This inner circle became larger and larger as more and more men in the original line peeled off. As often seen at Greek events, money was given to the musicians, as the mood of the dance became more and more exciting. At one point, the men lifted the groom up on their shoulders as they continued to dance in time with the music. For most of the dance, only men danced, but first some children joined the line and then some women. However, neither the children nor the women ever peeled off into the inner circle. The energy and electricity on the floor during that dance was contagious and engaging, and though Za Ramo was played several times that night, this was the only time that it was danced with such spirit and kefi.

The other notable moment was watching the koumbaro's father dancing Samarina towards the end of the evening. Even though he and his family are originally from Florina, he had lived in a Vlach village for several years and learned the dance from them. Watching him lead the dance and improvising with his own special flair and kefi was an inspiring moment that made his genuine love of this Vlach traditional dance evident.

8. Personal observations on the dancing

Observing the guests dancing Levendikos, I noticed that most of the guests danced with very small and restrained steps, close to the ground, with subdued lifts or syncopations-though this was not uniform. In my previous observations of festivals in villages in the Florina region, I have noticed people dancing with more forceful and energetic movements, which moved the dance line much quicker around the circle. According to the koumbaro, the style of his village of Itea and other valley villages is much smoother than the style of mountain villages such as Alona or Boufi. But that weekend, I attended panegyria in the Florina valley villages of Skopos and Polyplatanos, also valley villages, and I noticed that the dancers did not all have that smooth restrained style in Levendikos. Some young teens and older adults danced with a bouncy and energetic style, and other teens and adults were much more subdued and low-keyed.

What conclusions can be reached from these observations? Dancers from valley villages could indeed dance with more subdued styles, and those who were dancing at the valley village panegyria with a more energetic style might have come from other Florina villages. This subdued style that I observed on both evenings of the wedding may have been accentuated due to a lack of space-after all, towards the end of the evening, a few guests led Levendikos with bouncier movements and large traveling steps. It could also be that those who danced with more energetic movements had to wait until there was more space on the dance floor before having the chance to demonstrate their own particular style. However, I did notice that even when there was more space to dance, as on the street in Ammohori or towards the end of the evening in Kaliniki, the groom himself and many of his friends danced Levendikos with restrained steps that never left the ground.

It is also difficult to reach conclusions about the different styles of Pontian dances. I have attended Pontian panegyria in the Kavala villages of Kechrokambos and Lekani, and I have been to Pontian dance clubs in Athens and Kavala. The Pontians who live in the villages of Kavala descend from families who originally came from different regions of Pontos... some from Samsunda, some from Kars, some from Bafra. Dancers at these panegyria and in the clubs are not the original refugees from Pontos of course, they are much younger, the first or second generations born in Greece. In the 80 years since many Pontians came to Greece, the dancing has evolved enough that it may not always be possible to distinguish the distinct styles from the different villages of Pontos.

At this wedding, as I watched the Pontian dances, it was easy to recognize Pontians when their style of dancing was similar to the Pontian styles I had seen repeatedly around Kavala and Athens. It was also easy to recognize the "dopii" (locals) when their dance style in the Pontian dances was very bouncy and energetic, and their dancing looked like the Florina style I had observed at villages such as Alona. But there were several guests who danced Pontian dances with very restrained and smooth movements. Were they Pontians whose origins were in the Caucasus, or were they dopii from the Florina valley villages? Several of the women, especially, danced with very subdued movements and less accented weight changes than what I had seen in other settings. It was obvious that most everyone knew and enjoyed dances from both traditions. Since Pontian dances are done extensively in the Florina area, the style of Pontian dancing may be changing as the traditions between those cultures are merging. From my observation of young Pontian men and women dancing about 25 years ago, and from watching films of Pontians dancing more than 40 years ago, I can already note differences in body movement and syncopations.

9. The mix of traditions

In retrospect, it is remarkable how smoothly the village and contemporary traditions intertwined. As modern contemporary rituals supersede some the village customs, the older traditions take on a somewhat humorous and light-hearted mood, and yet some of them continue to be honored with solemnity and commitment. Sometimes, it seemed as if the bride and groom and their families made deliberate decisions to incorporate older traditions in the festivities, and at times, it seemed as if the modern rites were a natural part of the proceedings. Given my observations, I would conclude that this process of integrating modern rituals and expectations has been evolving over the generations since the beginning of the 20th century and possibly earlier. From my own studies, I know that some regions or villages, such as the Mani or Metsovo remained more isolated from the influences of Western Europe and North America. But in others, modern life has become more typical. For instance, it now seems perfectly natural to drive a car from the groom's village to that of the obvious change from years ago, when few people were likely to own a car. At the same time, some of the more whimsical traditions, such as the exchange between the groom and the koumbaro, and the proclamations of the couple after the ceremony, seemed to be much more deliberate choices that would connect the present and the previous generations.

Traditional dress in certain regions has been replaced by more formal contemporary wedding attire in this last century. As recently as 1944, some Vlach women were still wearing traditional dress at their weddings. A photograph taken of a wedding in Florina in 1946 shows the brides in regional dress. Both these photographs were taken after World War II, the commonly assumed line of demarcation between the use of traditional and modern dress. As the world becomes smaller via the media and the Internet, more and more customs and rituals are learned and borrowed between countries, and historical rituals are replaced by the more Western rites.

When did most of these modern customs become part of village ceremonies? How does a bride and groom decide whether to keep certain village traditions? Are these conscious choices or expectations that the community continues to observe? How much of the ceremony and festivities were designed by the bride and groom, by their families, by the priest or by the koumbaro, who has lived away from the region for many years and now resides in Canada? Some of the aspects of the village wedding are also observed in other regions of Greece and continue to be part of Greek weddings, even in the United States. At Greek American weddings I attended in California, the grooms, who were both traditional Greek dance enthusiasts, arranged for their wedding band to play during a procession to and from the church and hall. This was a deliberate attempt on their part to reproduce what is common practice in Greek villages.

The dance styles are also changing. As refugees from Asia Minor moved into the Florina regions as well as other areas of Northern Greece, their cultural heritage has become integrated into the musical tradition of their new regional homes. Pontian dancing and music continue to flourish in areas where the original dance and music traditions are becoming less common. In Thessaloniki and other areas of Northern Greece, for example, Pontian clubs and glendia thrive whereas Macedonian clubs are difficult to find, and glendia are infrequent. Pontian dancing is seen in the city squares in Thessaloniki on special days. At some Florina panegyria, Kotsari and Tik are danced almost as frequently as Levendikos, the regional dance. As more and more young people learn the dances of other regions, the distinct styles that are particular to a village or a region may be influenced by the style of other regions and villages, and village dance traditions continue to

In conclusion, I found that Greek and Western cultural traditions in this wedding blended easily and comfortably. By including older Florina traditions in a modern wedding, the bride and groom continued a connection with long-established customs. Though they followed some of the older rituals playfully and with humor, it was obvious they were committed to continue with their regional traditions while at the same time adopting those of modern Western weddings.

10. Author's biography

Anne Gani Sirota was born in Egypt of Greek heritage, though she has lived in the United States for most of her life. Anne has been dancing, teaching and researching Greek traditional dance for over thirty years, at panegyria, symposia and clubs in Greece and the United States, teaching dance for all ages and working with Greek performing groups. She danced with several semi-professional dance groups in California, and was assistant director of "Ellas", a performing group in Los Angeles. For the last 12 years, Anne has been a dance judge for the Greek Orthodox Youth Folk Dance Festival (FDF) sponsored by the Greek diocese in California. In that capacity, she has been able to foster the continued preservation of traditional Greek village dance through the commitment of young people in that organization. Outside of dance, Anne has been an elementary school teacher and is currently directing a professional development program for teachers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Anne Gani Sirota


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