In my time working as a wedding photographer here in Cyprus, I’ve witnessed a stunning diversity of celebrations from around the world. As you know (if you’ve been following my blog for a while), I’ve been to Asian weddings, Indian weddings, Romanian weddings, Lebanese weddings, and many more. I’ve been amazed and humbled at the way that love connects people around the globe… And I’ve been surprised by just how many of them end up celebrating here in my native Cyprus, even though they are from thousands of miles away. However, as wonderful as all of that is, it’s rare that I get to take pictures of a traditional Cypriot wedding within this global millieu.
This is where Rhea and Tim come in: Though they met in the UK, both of them decided to return to their roots when it came time to marry, hosting a traditional Cypriot wedding at the Elysium Hotel. They chose to honour old-fashioned protocols like the groom’s “last shave”, the use of a traditional red scarf and orchestra, and the blowing of smoke from olive leaves. This unique, elaborate, and historic procession made for meaningful and magnificent wedding photography in Paphos… And upon looking over my photographs, I felt a desire to share a bit of the symbolism behind these traditions.
The last shave that you see Tim experiencing is about much more than achieving a very clean look. Traditionally, a Cypriot groom is shaved by his best man in the company of his friends and family, then dresses while musicians play festive music in the background. This ritual represents the groom leaving his old life as a boy and single man behind and starting a new journey with his bride. His friends and family are there to support him as he makes this momentous transition; after all, no matter how exciting marriage is, any huge change is daunting. The presence of loved ones eases the way.
The red scarves that the bride and groom wear in Cyprus are a blessing and “good luck charm” that’s meant to help ensure the couple has a large, happy family. The groom’s red scarf represents his ability to father children while the bride’s red scarf symbolises her purity and innocence. For Cypriots, red is the colour of life, of potential, and of new beginnings. It is a testament to the vibrancy and passion that flows in our veins.
Next, we arrive at the olive leaves. The olive tree has co-existed with the inhabitants of Cyprus since the island was settled in the Neolithic period, so it has become an integral part of our culture and livelihood. And yet, though the burning of olive leaves at weddings is uniquely Cypriot, it has something in common with traditions around the world: As is the case in many cultures, smoke is used to ward off evil spirits. By passing a traditional ‘kapnistiri’ vessel three times in a circular motion around the bride and groom’s head, family and friends protect them and their union spiritually. The bride and groom’s eternal bond is then usually cemented with the placing of crowns (which often also contain olive leaves) on each of their heads.
Finally, after my attempt to shoot some magnificent wedding photography in Paphos and the church ceremony (at Agia Paraskevi church) concluded, I bore witness to that most beloved of all local wedding traditions: The feast! Tim and Rhea enjoyed a wonderful family dinner and speeches at the beautiful Elea Estate Golf Resort. Here in the Mediterranean, we know that each of life’s milestones is something to be celebrated—a cause to eat, drink, dance, and be merry.
If there is one thing that observing wedding traditions from so many different places has taught me, it’s this: Love in universal, yet the ways we can choose to express it are infinite in their variety. No matter where we are from, what we look like, or how we worship, the beauty of love is a constant shared by us all.