- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2007

When I got married 13 years ago, I knew nothing about making a wedding memorable for my guests.

In my early 20s and unschooled in the intricacies of wedding planning, I signed on for the standard church service, followed by dinner at a reception hall. The most intriguing aspect of the day came in the form of silver trays filled with Greek sweets — syrupy, nut-filled baklava and sugar-blanketed, ouzo-laced kourambiedes — baked by a childhood friend’s mother, Vasiliki Kolovos.

Had I delved further into matrimonial foods and rites of other countries and injected a clever custom or two, I would have hosted an affair that even the most distant relative or acquaintance would never forget.

A 33-year resident of Itea, Greece, on the Corinthian Gulf, Ted Worth, along with his wife Fofo, has repeatedly witnessed the country’s diverse marriage rituals. Practices vary from family to family, region to region, he notes. While some couples dance until dawn to traditional bouzouki music at the local taverna, others let loose with fireworks displays at tony reception halls.

Along with launching pyrotechnics, celebrants may also shoot off weaponry. The island of Crete is home to wedding celebrations where double-barrel shotguns are fired into the air. “This custom leads guests to remark that ‘sometimes there is a funeral as well as a wedding,’ ” says Mr. Worth, a teacher at the School of the English Language in Itea, Crete.

Food also plays a symbolic role in Greek weddings. Island services end with the bride and groom eating honey and walnuts, emblems of sweetness and fertility. Elsewhere, jubilant guests throw sugar-coated almonds, koufetta, at newly married couples.

The candy represents the bittersweet aspect of wedded life. At almost every Greek reception, guests receive bonbonnieres, packages filled with an odd number of white chocolate-covered almonds. The egg-shaped treats stand for fertility, as well as for the new life that begins with marriage.

A continent away in Afghanistan, both betrothal and matrimony are marked by opulent outdoor banquets. Sitting on pillows placed atop hand-woven carpets, diners indulge in an array of local delicacies.

Kabobs, slow-cooked stews or korma and saffron-scented pilafs serve as the staples, while an abundance of fresh seasonal fruit, rice pudding perfumed with rose water and firni, a cardamom custard, top off the meal. Sweetened black tea and green tea flavored with cardamom and clotted cream act as thirst quenchers at these alcohol-free festivities.

Similarly, in Morocco, guests rest outside on cushions positioned around low, round tables and partake of a classic Berber feast. The vast spread begins with platters of bastila, a flaky pie filled with pigeon, eggs, onions, preserved lemons and almonds and topped with a cinnamon and sugar-dusted pastry crust.

Eaten by hand instead of with silverware, the bastila precedes such foods as whole roasted lamb, couscous and semolina pancakes, or beghrir, topped with whipped cream, cherries, pistachios and honey.

In prerevolutionary China, extravagant repasts featuring at least 32 dishes, including bird’s nest soup, delighted reception attendants. Simpler occasions, today’s fetes occur in restaurants, not reception halls, and rarely involve more than 30 different foods.

For Shanghai native Yu Mao, one of the more memorable aspects of these events involves the marriage toast. Unlike American weddings, where only the honor attendants bestow good wishes, everyone at a Chinese reception may do so and ask those assembled to raise a glass of beer or shao jiu, a clear, distilled liquor, and pay tribute to the newlyweds.

As the evening advances and the toasting continues, the risk of inebriation runs high. To reduce the likelihood of an alcohol-induced spectacle, the best man and best woman stand in for the bride and groom and drink some of the toasts.

After a joyful night of dining and drinking, the couple presents gifts of chocolate or candy wrapped in pink and bearing the sign of double happiness to relatives and friends. They then retire to their home and hunt for peanuts and dried berries that family members have hidden in the couple’s bedroom. These foods symbolize fertility and, prior to China’s 1970s family planning laws, the desire for male and female offspring.

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