Greece’s economic crisis has become so severe for many that even traditional customs are being lost or altered, including an end to big weddings and people forced to have bargain funerals because they can’t pay burial costs.
The news agency Reuters reported that fewer people are getting married – and others are putting off divorces because of the cost. Those who do walk down the aisle aren’t splurging on flowers, three-foot high candles and candy wrapped in tulle.
Nafsika Koutrokoi, 28, who works at a butcher shop, said that fulfilling her dream of marrying her fiancé, a cable technician, in church was a difficult decision that required huge sacrifices. “Things are quite tough right now,” she said after the wedding. “We cut down on many things, from invitations to the reception, on everything,” she told Reuters.
The number of Greek couples who tied the knot in church tumbled to 28,000 in 2011, two years into Europe’s debt crisis, compared to the pre-crisis level of 40,000 in 2008, according to the country’s statistic service ELSTAT. The number of civil weddings, not favored in a country where the Greek Orthodox Church has such a long hold, soared from 8,000 a decade ago to 26,000 in 20122.
The wedding industry’s countless shops and planners are also feeling the pinch. “They want whatever is cheapest, which often is not possible because the cost of everything is rising,” said wedding shop owner Anastasia Theophanopoulou, whose family business has sold wedding supplies for decades. “There is a drastic drop.”
The downturn has also had an unexpected effect on another ceremony revered by many Greeks – funerals. With more and more Greeks having trouble paying for funerals, municipal authorities in Athens have reduced the cost of burial in the capital’s cemeteries. “There was always money for the deceased, but now people are in a very bad state,” Athens City Councilor Nikos Kokkinos, who is responsible for cemeteries, told the news agency.
Some Greeks do not collect their dead loved ones from the hospital to avoid having to pay for the funeral. Others can no longer afford a traditional marble tombstone and so leave plots as simple dirt mounds overgrown by weeds, a cemetery official said.
Funeral home director Vassilis Tranou has been forced to lower prices at his family-run business and sometimes will do a funeral – which costs at least 1,500 euros($1,978 U.S.) – for free. “People don’t have the money any more or they don’t spend like they used to, and Greeks are usually people who take great care with the people they have lost,” Tranou said.