By Ingrid Howard
When Terpsithea Christou moved to Alabama from her hometown in Ioannina, Greece, she originally thought she’d move back home once she finished her orthodontics residency.
But a few things kept her in the States, one of them being Jon Allen Bernstein.
One of Christou’s fellow residents was engaged to one of Bernstein’s good friends. The now-husband and wife tried for six months to introduce Bernstein and Christou, but Christou kept saying no.
“I hadn’t been dating anybody for like four years,” she said. “It just didn’t happen.”
Finally, Christou’s friend invited her to go out for drinks during their second year of residency, disguising the outing as a girls’ night out. “Make sure you look cute,” Christou’s friend said.
Christou agreed, and when she arrived, Bernstein was there, too. Within five years, Bernstein popped the question. The two began planning their destination wedding in Greece.
Planning a wedding halfway across the world would be difficult for any bride, but Christou and Bernstein faced unique challenges.
“The paperwork was very difficult because getting married to a foreigner – John was a foreigner for Greece – it requires so much paperwork,” Christou said. “My mom thought at some point she wasn’t going to make it.”
Additionally, the St. Maria Orthodox Church had booked a wedding before and a wedding after the couple’s 7 p.m. ceremony time. They were informed of this one week before their ceremony when a panicked florist called worried she wouldn’t have enough time to set up the flowers.
But by July 2018, just more than a year after the proposal, the paperwork had been finalized and the schedule had been resolved. The night before the wedding, the groom’s parents hosted a dinner at a venue overlooking the city. Then, on July 7, about 300 guests went to the 450-year-old Greek Orthodox Church to celebrate Bernstein and Christou’s wedding day.
Greek Traditions and Charm
Unlike wedding ceremonies in the United States, a traditional Greek wedding begins with the guests waiting outside of the church for the bride to arrive. Bernstein stood outside holding Christou’s bouquet of lilies, having not seen her yet that day.
Finally, Christou arrived, wearing the dress of her dreams: a sparkling ball gown purchased at Bridals by Lori, the Atlanta location for the “Say Yes to the Dress” television show.
“When he saw my dress, he flipped,” she said. “He was like, ‘You were not joking. This dress is big.’”
Bernstein gave her a kiss on the cheek but wasn’t able to kiss her on the lips just yet. He would have to wait until the end of the ceremony for that.
The couple entered the church, their hundreds of guests following behind them. Despite the July heat, the church had no air conditioning. Christou said this is typical of orthodox Greek churches; they are modest, she said, and supplying paper fans is a custom.
The guests stood throughout the 45-minute ceremony, following another Greek tradition. The couple did not recite vows, but instead had a ceremony filled with other symbolic elements.
The newlyweds spent a couple of hours after the ceremony taking photos together and with their families around Ioannina. Meanwhile, the guests headed to Hotel De Luc to take advantage of the open bar. It was going to be a long night; Christou said Greek weddings typically last all night long.
First thing after walking into the reception area, Christou and Bernstein cut their six-tier blue cake with golden stardust adorning the top two tiers – an idea Christou found online.
“I just saw it and I loved it,” she said, laughing. “I think I saw it on Pinterest or somewhere.”
After cutting the cake, the couple had their first dance. It took six private lessons at Alabama Ballet for them to perfect their choreographed dance, and even then, Christou said, she was nervous to perform the dance in her bulky ball gown.
Then the guests joined in on the dancing, having the chance to enjoy both American and Greek music. There were two bands and a DJ at the reception, each offering a different style of music.
“That was a highlight for my wedding,” Christou said. “We had older people, and we had younger people, and Greeks and Americans. And we would just switch the music every now and then, whatever people wanted to listen to.”
The first buffet was served early in the night, and because Christou knew the party would last all night long, she had a second buffet planned for 2:30 a.m. Finally, as the sun was starting to come up, Christou was ready to turn in, even though her friends weren’t.
“At 5:30, I went to the bar and said, ‘The bride says we’re closing the bar because I’m tired and it’s late.’” she said. “And my friends were fighting me.”
They ended the wedding weekend by going to spots within a 45-minute radius of the town to take photos. They visited Vikos Gorge, posed in a meadow as lightning struck behind them and hiked around rocks and caves.
After a honeymoon in Bali, the couple live in Mountain Brook. Christou is an orthodontist, and Bernstein is a co-owner of Standard Iron & Metal Co.Top, after the wedding the couple visited Vikos Gorge. Above, the wedding ceremony was held in a 450-year-old Greek Orthodox Church. Left, Jon Allen Bernstein and Terpsithea Christou share a kiss as they exit the church.