Today’s bride describes her elegant and family-focused Sonoma wedding as a “resplendent gathering of family and friends on a magical summer day in the Valley of the Moon.” With families coming from all over the world, the couple beautifully blended their two cultures, Greek and Swedish, to create a stunning, musical and magical Midsummer night wedding.
Photography by Alicia Swedenborg.
Did you include any other traditions in your wedding? In the Greek tradition, on the day of the wedding, it is customary to give the bride a gold lira (coin) for prosperity and this was given to me by my father before I left for the church. Another special moment was when we (the bridal party) danced a traditional Greek dance before entering the limousine for the church. In the limousine, traditional wedding songs, both Swedish and Greek, were sung by my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law and by my stepmother and sister.
“My religious background is Greek Orthodox and my husband’s is Lutheran but we decided to marry in the Orthodox church. In the Orthodox faith, the marriage ceremony must be performed in a church. I loved the location of the Nativity of Christ Church in Novato because it is up on a hill with rolling views of Sonoma county in the distance. It has beautiful tall Mediterranean cypress trees as you enter and this reminded me of the Orthodox churches seen in Greece. It also has an impressive bell tower that is built in the tradition of the Catholic mission churches in California so the church represents a unique blend of architecture in the California wine country.”
Your ceremony in three words. Intimate, musical, traditional
How did you go about planning your ceremony? There was not much planning involved because the marriage ceremony in the Greek Orthodox Church has remained more or less unchanged through the centuries. It was important for us to have a small wedding party comprised of our siblings, our “koumbaroi”, and our flower girls, to have live music being played while guests waited for the ceremony to start, and to make an exit to greet our guests before heading to the reception.
Who officiated your ceremony? Father Niko was our celebrant. I had met him briefly during the time I lived in San Francisco yet he had left an impression on me—he is kind, easy-going and accessible as a spiritual leader. It was important to us to have an individual of such character and purpose as the celebrant who would to guide us into a lifelong partnership and represent us as a couple.
What was your ceremony music? While the guests mingled in the courtyard of the church and later as they entered the church from the courtyard, we had a string quartet playing classical compositions. With the help of our landlord in NYC, who had trained as a violinist at the Juilliard School, we selected songs that we enjoyed and that had meaning for us as a couple. These included a quartet by Dvořák called “Cypresses” which was a reflection of the Mediterranean Cypress trees in front of the church, a piece by Edvard Grieg, a Scandinavian composer, called “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen”, and a classical rendition of The Beatles “In My Life”, which is one my favorite songs from childhood.
The processional and recessional music were Orthodox hymns sung by the cantor of the church, Bonnie; this is a specific tradition of the Nativity of Christ Church.
Did you include any traditions in your ceremony? The wedding ceremony in the Greek Orthodox Church in and of itself is a tradition that has been celebrated in its present form for centuries. It is abundant with symbolisms that reflect marriage: love, mutual respect, equality and sacrifice. It is comprised of two interrelated parts—The Service of the Betrothal and the Sacrament of Marriage.
One of the most unique parts of the Greek Orthodox service is the inclusion of “sponsors” or “koumbaroi” which is akin to the best man/maid of honor except that the koumbaroi continue to play a spiritual role in the couples’ lives. It was an honor to have Manos, one of my closest cousins, and his wife Maria, travel from Greece to take on that role for us.
What were your vows like? We did not have improvisational vows because the Orthodox rite presupposes the couple’s commitment. The exchange of rings at the beginning of the ceremony is a silent representation of this commitment. I really liked that the vows were implicit to the act of marriage; it felt more profound that way.
What was your favorite thing about your wedding ceremony? The Crowning with the Greek Stefana or wedding crowns (ours were handmade in Greece) and the Ceremonial Walk in front of the altar with the crowns on our heads. The crowns are joined by a ribbon which symbolizes the unity of the couple and this part is the highlight of the wedding ceremony. We also loved the exit from the church where we were greeted by our guests with a showering of rose petals under clear blue skies as we walked under the bell tower. It made for great photos. And the best part of all was driving off to our reception in a Buick 1962 Electra convertible.
“We wanted an intimate outdoor setting surrounded by the natural beauty and bounty of the Sonoma Valley and this was embodied in Annadel Estate Winery, which is a family-run estate that produces exceptional wine and flowers. We were also drawn to the original vineyard ruins on the property which are from the 1880s. Annadel turned out to be the perfect setting for our reception dinner with the backdrop of the Sonoma Mountains and the sun setting over the vineyards, and later the dancing in the old vineyard ruins under the moon and the stars.”
How would you describe your reception? A resplendent gathering of family and friends on a magical summer day in the Valley of the Moon. It was a confluence of metaphors and cultures—Greek, Swedish, and Californian. We chose to have our wedding on Midsummer (the summer solstice), the longest day of the year. This is one of the oldest and most significant holidays in Sweden and is considered a magical night when family and friends gather to celebrate and welcome the summer. Since J. is Swedish and we had many Swedish guests, it was memorable to have our wedding at this time.
Did you have a signature cocktail? We had two signature cocktails: a cucumber & basil gimlet that was inspired by a summer cocktail recipe from celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson who is Swedish, and the Stockholm 75, which is a cocktail recipe from the Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco—one of our favorite cocktail bars.
What inspired you when you were planning your wedding? I read wedding blogs from all over the world – USA, France, Sweden. I knew I wanted an elegant yet natural aesthetic that captured elements from our experiences and our multicultural lives and exposures. There were many details that had little hidden meanings for us from the music selected to the photos displayed to the postcards that the guests signed in lieu of a guest book.
What advice do you have for other couples in the midst of planning a wedding? Try to plan for multiple days for time with family and friends because it is the only time in your life when so many special people will gather together to celebrate with you. It is a fleeting moment. Because we had so many guests from out of town (national and international), we planned for events leading up to and after the wedding and deferred our mini-moon to a few days later. It was the best thing we did because one or two days to soak it all in is not enough.
What was your wedding menu? Artisan And Farmstead Cheese Board: Local Artisan Cheeses, Marcona Almonds & Citrus Marinated Olives With Baguettes, Rustic Crackers & Grissini // Passed Hors D’oeuvres: Gougeres (Savory Gruyere Gougeres, With Apple Smoked Bacon, Pickled Red Onions, & County Line Wild Arugula) / Tuna Tartare (Watermelon Radish, Cucumber, Citrus, Housemade Cracker) / Summer Peaches & Crescenza Cheese (Grilled Summer Peaches, Crescenza Cheese & Fresh Mint Atop Country Baguettes) / Pan Seared Prawns (Pan Seared Prawns With Lime, Chiles, Cilantro) // Salad: Sonoma Greens, Pink Chioggia Beets, Baby Fennel, Chèvre, Pine Nuts & Champagne-Citrus Vinaigrette // Entrées: Herb Crusted Grilled Lamb: Toybox Eggplant, Summer Squash, Marble Potatoes, Gypsy Peppers, Mediterranean Salsa Verde & Natural Jus / Pan Roasted Sea Bass: Rustic Italian Couscous, Wild Arugula, Baby Artichokes, Gypsey Peppers, Sweet Onions & Tomato Confit / Rainbow Chard & Fresh Ricotta Ravioli: Roasted Chanterelles, Browned Butter, Lemon & Shaved Grana
Catering by Sage Catering.
Please tell us about any other special details or moments from your reception. The speeches given at the reception dinner by each of our fathers and siblings were extraordinary and indelible. Our guests and even our vendors commented that these were some of the best speeches they had ever heard. We felt incredibly honored to be the recipients of this kind of love and attention.
I will never forget the importance of wearing my mother’s ring throughout our wedding day and having a part of her with me as I began a new phase of my life.
What type of cake or dessert did you serve? We had a lemon wedding cake with fresh lemon curd and lemon cream from a wedding cake bakery in San Francisco. Also, we had traditional homemade Greek desserts: diples, kourabiedes, and amygdalota. These desserts were made in the days leading up to the wedding by my great aunt Athina, who had traveled by herself from Athens to the US to be a part of our wedding. She is meticulous in her cooking and her desserts were amazing. It was special to introduce the deliciousness of Greek wedding desserts to my other friends and family.
Cake by A Spoonful of Sugar.
What was your first dance song? Father/daughter or mother/son dance? “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens. My father picked the song as Cat Stevens was one of his favorite musicians. The song was originally a hymn of Scottish Gaelic origin. It began as a father/daughter dance and mother/son subsequently joined. Also, interestingly, Cat Stevens is half Greek, half Swedish.
Reception Music by AMS Entertainment.
What was your favorite moment or part of the reception? Our favorite part of the reception was the dinner—it was the culmination of all of our planning and was one of the most intimate moments we will ever feel in our lives. As we sat outdoors at Annadel surrounded by our family and friends, in the golden hour of sunset, amidst the glowing flower arrangements, with the lightest breeze warming our skin, enjoying the unparalleled wine and food of the wine country, we knew that we were experiencing something unforgettably magical.