A big Greek wedding, full of tradition

Just Married

Challie O'Neal and Steve Samaras

October 13, 2002|By Molly Knight | Molly Knight,SUN STAFF

After seriously dating his girlfriend, Challie O'Neal, for 10 years, Steve Samaras couldn't muster up a credible excuse to explain his case of cold feet. Until, that is, he came up with the following:

"I'm Greek," he reminded Challie, who hails from Texas. "And in the Greek tradition, I can't get married again [he's once divorced] until my youngest sister gets married."

It sure sounded good, Steve recalled thinking. After all, who can contest a long-standing family tradition? Especially a Greek family tradition? Steve, 49, has two younger sisters and is a third-generation Greek-American. His grandparents are from Thessalia, a region in central Greece. Now, he confesses that his excuse was shaky.

"My grandparents are Greek, but I grew up in Annapolis. I was pretty sure that the tradition didn't transcend continents," he said.

Fortunately for him at the time, Challie, 44, bought it. Or, at least, she pretended to. "I knew that he wasn't ready, but I also knew he was the man I wanted to be with," she said. "I had to believe him."

Like so many good excuses, however, Steve's soon ran out of steam. In June, his youngest sister, Evangeline, announced her engagement.

"True to my word, I planned to ask Challie to marry me," said Steve.

At the end of Evangeline's wedding weekend, Steve and Challie got together with dozens of Steve's family members to share their favorite moment of the celebration. When Challie's turn came to talk about her favorite memory, Steve interrupted.

"Challie can't name her favorite moment," he said. "Because she hasn't had it yet." With that, he dropped to one knee and asked her to marry him. "I was totally surprised," said Challie, who agreed on the spot.

Steve, the owner of Zachary's Jewelers in Annapolis, said the moment exceeded his expectations. "I've sold thousands of diamonds in my life," he said. "This was definitely my diamond moment - the one shot in time that makes it all worth it."

Marrying into a Greek family, Challie found herself - once again - facing new traditions. Immediately, she said, scenes from the hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding flashed before her. Once she decided to convert from Catholicism to the Greek Orthodox Church, her first concern was her baptism. "I asked Steve if I'd have to get up in front of everyone in a bathing suit like [actor] John Corbett did in the movie," said Challie. "Fortunately, I didn't!"

Then came the guest list. "In the Greek tradition, everyone is an aunt, uncle or cousin," said Challie. With each draft, Challie and Steve's wedding list grew exponentially. When they tried to finalize the list, more aunts, uncles, cousins or friends came to mind. The guest count? 800.

"That's when we just gave in and decided to have a festivallike wedding," said Steve.

Finally, there was the food. In the Greek tradition, Challie rolled up her sleeves and hit the kitchen. Helped by two of Steve's aunts, she spent an afternoon making five pans of baklava and more than 600 Greek cookies.

On Sept. 12, Challie and Steve were married at SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Annapolis. Held at Kallis Farm in Stevensville, the reception was a blend of Steve's Greek heritage and Challie's Texas roots. The result was a Tex-Greek festival, with everything from baklava to barbecue.

According to Steve, like all Greek celebrations, the wedding was all about family. "It's the moral fiber that holds us together," he said. "It's the core of Greek tradition."

And that, said Challie, is one tradition she's ready to embrace.

"I knew when I married him that I was marrying into his family, and they're nothing but warm and wonderful."

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