Thumbnail Image by: Stefanos Papadopoulos
Left & Right Images by: Sotiris Tsakanikas
Middle Image by: Stefanos Papadopoulos
Everyone take a seat and get comfortable, this is a long one. This is a story about a Greek woman who, as a young girl, thought she’d be married by 25 like her cousin and all the other female relatives who preceded her. Instead, she met her now-husband at 19 and was disowned for 2 years because he wasn’t Greek. Well, that took a turn didn’t it. Though they were in love and wanted to get married, they knew it would be a sad event with little love and support. So instead, they ventured to Hollywood and focused on their career, with the hopes of becoming the next Kurt and Goldie. If you didn’t guess by now, this is the story about me and my husband Keven. Don’t worry, we did end up getting our dream wedding(s)…I’ll get to that later.
While we can now look back and laugh about it, it hurt in the moment. Really badly. It was worse, actually – it was absolutely devastating for the young girl who just loved her family so much. That first holiday season in LA, I was working at Channel One news. It was a dream come true, but with my family life in turmoil, it just didn’t feel right. So we got some dogs and created a little family of our own but nothing could replace that hole left in my heart. It was especially brutal during the holidays, my favorite time of year when I was so used to being around all of my family. Instead, Kev and I cuddled closely to our dogs and just got through it together. Luckily, we didn’t have to endure this suffering for long because my parents eventually came around to the idea of me having a non-Greek boyfriend (and ended up loving him more than me hahaha).
Now let’s fast-forward to when I hosted Fox New Year’s Eve with Steve Harvey in 2017. About a month before the event, I met with my producer Maura Mandt (God rest her soul) and she ran off ideas for the show. She came to the last one and said that they are going to feature a couple getting married and then turned to me and asked, “unless you and Keven want to get married?” “Ewwww no,” I replied. I was SO over the wedding thing. I had just preached about how much I despised weddings on Martha Stewart’s show during wedding week because I hated how much stress it caused the couple. Also, I think truthfully, the rift between my brother always made it impossible to think of a wedding because I knew my parents would be sad he wouldn’t be there. So a wedding was out of the question until I got into my car. I quickly started to realize that this may be a good idea. A) there would be no stress over the invite list, because there wouldn’t be one and B) I wouldn’t have to organize anything. THIS IS PERFECT!!!! I called Maura, accepted, and decided I would keep this a surprise from everyone including Keven. Little did I know, Kev was hatching up his own plan for a secret wedding live on Howard Stern’s show (where we got engaged)! About a day later, I had to let him in on the secret (when I thought about it, I wouldn’t be able to fit him for a ring or a suit). Of course, he went white as a ghost because he had been planning a wedding with Howard and Beth Stern. Luckily, the two were so excited for us and we proceeded with the NYE wedding. I still laugh at how we were both surprising each other with a wedding! At this point, we had less than a month to get ready.
Next, the search was on for my wedding dress. I fell in love with a gown from Greek designer Celia Kritharioti but knew it wasn’t realistic to wear an off-the-shoulder dress in the dead of winter…in New York City. So I decided to save it in case I ever got married in Greece. Anyways, soon after, I went on Access Hollywood for an interview and as I walked out, I complimented my former producer Susan’s headband. She told me it was for a wedding segment. “Woah,” I thought, “I needed a wedding gown.” I had just said yes the day before to this wedding. I went into the dressing room and pretended to be curious about dresses for fun and even tried one on. Here’s the crazy part – the designer they were featuring was PRONOVIAS, the designer I was obsessed with! How kismet?! Long story short, almost immediately after, I jumped on a plane to New York to try on dresses. And there, I found exactly what I was looking for – something with sleeves to keep me a little warm (a little hahah).
Fast-forward to the big day. It was the second coldest night on New Year’s Eve (9 degrees!). I got dressed outside under the stage in less than 2 minutes during a commercial break – thank God for my best friends Alyssa and Dimitri. All that was separating me and my naked self from the crowd was a couple of black curtains. Finally, the moment arrived and we surprised the world and my parents by getting married on live television! Our guest list? Just my parents, Kev’s parents, my brother, my two best friends, and Kev’s best friend. Oh, and everyone watching! To our surprise, Jon Bon Jovi performed our wedding song “Thank you for loving me.” I was so beyond moved as he later told me his whole band got together and no one would take a penny as they wanted to do this for me and my mom after all we had been through. What a wow moment I will never forget. It was all so chaotic and untraditional and crazy…but it was perfect. Kris Jenner had once told me, “tomorrow is never promised” and I knew at that moment that marrying Keven, my best friend and partner in life, was the right thing to do. And not only that, it was a dream come true for my parents. My mom, who had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, had always wanted to see me get married. The fact that I was able to do that for her was just the cherry on top. But wait, this isn’t the end…
Months went by and all I kept thinking about was that other dress…which led me to dreaming about a beautiful wedding in Akovos, Greece, the village where my dad is from. So in September, I called my friend Sotiris who lives in Greece and said “I wanna do this.” He and I had often spoken about my dream to get married in Greece and just invite everyone in the village! He said, “Maria, you and your family have been through so much, let us, your friends, help do this for you.” With less than a month to go, we had planned our entire wedding. Sotiris is like a brother to me and I am so grateful that he organized everything for this event. He took this little idea I had and not only ran, but SPRINTED with it. And he’s not even a wedding planner!
I had created a little Pinterest board for inspiration. It was just some table settings with lemons and some kind of wreath to take pictures in front of. I didn’t want invites, seating charts or anything that would require too much stress. I wanted something simple and fun. We would get married in the church that my dad, and others who immigrated to America, helped build. Growing up we would have fundraising events to raise money to fund its construction. How beautiful, I thought, to get married there.
Images by: Sotiris Tsakanikas
Sotiris called me one day and said he had the top chef in Greece cooking the food and told me that the top planner wanted to help too. My dad jumped in, of course, and so one day I got a call saying he was securing a donkey for me to ride to the church in. I was like dad, I can’t ride a donkey in a wedding gown!!!! This was our only real argument other than our fight about how many people we could let into the reception venue (which was an abandoned school yard). I was like, I have friends too, dad. Hahah. I carved out what I needed and let him have the rest. We literally invited the entire village. It was all over the news that I was going to get married there and so my dad got calls from more and more people who wanted to come (we eventually needed to make little ribbon bracelets to hand out so that we knew who could come in as it got a bit out of control). I didn’t invite any of my friends from America to avoid the hassle of incoming guests. After all we had been through, I needed this to be easy. Finally, I told my friends in Greece to mark their calendars and secured my koubari (the Greek version of the maid of honor). My koubari were my best friends Dimitri, Sotiris, Marietta and her husband Leon.
I really just wanted a party in the village. I wanted to honor our roots and just have fun. And that’s exactly what we did.
Finally, it is wedding time. We flew into Athens the day before and piled into my friend Panos’s minivan and drove to the village. That day, we scouted a neighbors backyard to take the wedding photos at and headed to a hotel in Kalamata, where my mom is from. Even that came together pretty late – Sotiris found the hotel and we blocked a bunch of rooms for all of our friends to stay in. There was no advance planning. Everything was last minute and the universe was with us!
We got ready at my cousin’s house and everyone swarmed to see! The horse-drawn carriage arrived and took me to the church down the road with all of the villagers and spectators walking alongside me. I felt like Meghan Markle lol. It was way better than the donkey, but of course a side of me felt a little embarrassed. A carriage? Hahah. Anyway I gave in and enjoyed it.
The ceremony was beautiful and once we entered the church, it started to rain. A sign of good luck I’m told. Once we finished, the rain ended and it gave us the most insane background for photos. Omg, the photos are breathtaking.
Now, there has got to be some drama right? Well, there truly wasn’t (outside of one woman we dubbed the paparazzi who harassed me for photos every five minutes. I just laughed). But there was one disaster. I got my period. After the photos, I rushed to the bathroom with Dimitri and – this is why he’s my everything – we had to scrub the inner part of my dress clean. So gross, but yeah it happened. That’s when you know someone loves you:)
When Kev and I got into the carriage to head to the reception, we had no idea what awaited us. I remembered Sotiris telling me that we should rent a tent because it could be cold. So he sent me a picture of one with lights and I approved it. That’s all I knew. When Keven and I arrived and I laid eyes on this reception, I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I walked into Kim Kardashian’s wedding. It was so beautiful. Breathtaking arrangements everywhere that were made up of 1500 lemons in total! The food was INSANE. The music was incredible. The love we felt from so many who were just so happy to be there is a feeling I’ll never forget. It was pure to the core. My dad was on cloud nine. My mom too. I’m so blessed to have such amazing friends and family in Greece. It was truly the most special day of my life. If I could relive any day, it would be my wedding day in Akovos, Greece.
God bless all of the villagers and family and friends who were eagerly anticipating the wedding. They made all of the decorations and even the mayor of the village worked so hard to prepare the town for the onslaught of guests and media. It really took a village, as they say! I still will never know how much went into it. I recently looked through my mom’s phone after she passed and saw so much footage of them making decorations and I started to understand what went into it. I will say this – I feel it. I am grateful daily for all of it. And I will never forget it.
Images by: Sotiris Tsakanikas
Bottom Left Image by: Stefanos Papadopoulos