A Traditional Greek Engagement Party with a Twist at the National Hellenic Museum

By Shayna Seid

John Stephanian asked a mutual friend to put in a good word for him with Maria Dolomas, and around a month later, they had their first date on a Wednesday night in Chicago. “Our first date was a breath of fresh air. We connected instantly, as if we knew each other for years,” Maria says. Three years later, he proposed while on a trip to his favorite city, New Orleans.

It was John’s idea to have their engagement party at the National Hellenic Museum, as both of them are very proud of their Greek culture. “I loved the modern Grecian feel around the museum, and I took inspiration from the natural light that the venue provided and tried to recreate the Parthenon. Clean, modern, and romantic was the aesthetic I wanted to acknowledge in the room,” Maria explains. 

The bride-to-be and her mother returned to Dimitra’s Bridal, where they also found her bespoke wedding gown, for an engagement party look. There happened to be a Marchesa trunk show going on at the time, and as soon as she walked out of the dressing room in a piece from the fall collection, they agreed it was “the one.” The dress was then cut to be more appropriate for a cocktail formal event and paired with white Dior sling-backs and Ippolita freshwater pearl hoop earrings. Maria kept her beauty look natural but decided last-minute to go for a red lip. “It completed the look. Plus, John loves me in a red lip, so I was excited to surprise him,” she says.

The groom wore a custom navy, double-breasted suit from Suit Supply with Gucci loafers and an Hermès pocket square. “When we started Greek dancing, no one was quick enough to hand me a handkerchief, so I whipped this out of his pocket and started dancing. I loved seeing that pop of color in all the photos,” Maria says. 

Her yiayia (grandmother) looked fabulous in a vintage dress that her pappou (grandfather) bought her in 1962. “The dress originally was a gown, and she decided to shorten it and brought the flowers up top,” the bride-to-be says. “She felt amazing in it and was even happier that she was wearing a piece of him that night.”

On the roof of the museum, the couple had a traditional Greek engagement ceremony with a twist. Their priest blessed both their engagement rings, with their parents and siblings by their sides, and then John placed Maria’s on her ring finger, and Maria did the same with John’s ring. “We both wear our rings until the wedding day, when the priest places them on our right hands, symbolizing our unity and marriage to one another,” Maria explains.

The service continued with a tray, made for Maria by the Bishop of Greece when she was born and featuring an icon of the Virgin Mary, filled with new and old jewelry from both families for the bride and groom. John received a GMT Rolex from his parents-in-law and cuff links from his brother, among other sentimental pieces. The bride received lires (ancient gold coins) passed down from her pappou, a pendant with diamond bezel 24k carat gold and sapphire ring from her parents, a Van Cleef & Arpels pearl necklace from her brother, and other irreplaceable treasures. “Having our families bless us, not only with their kind words, but with something as sentimental as a piece of jewelry, is something we could never exchange for any pot or pan in the world,” Maria says.

After the ceremony, the party began with their band, Enigma, and violinist Peter Karnavas playing modern and classic Greek music. “Greeks love to dance, and quite frankly, that is all we do—all night,” explains the bride-to-be. Mastixa shots, ouzo, and frosé were flowing, and a dessert table, filled with Greek sweets made by John’s mother, kept everyone spirited and energized. The couple started the politiko syrto, a dance native to her parent’s home island of Chios, where guests cut in to dance with the bride while money is being thrown—it only ends once the groom is reunited with his bride! Around 2:00 A.M., the festivities finally came to a close at the museum but the party continued at a bar in Greek Town. Opa!