Greek Traditions

Name Day Celebration

Most of the Greeks owe their names to a religious saint. A very important Greek tradition that takes place in the entire Greece is that everyone who has a name coming from a saint celebrated by the church celebrates his name on a given day of the year. On the “name day” of someone, his friends and family visit him without invitation and offer their wishes (long life to you, live many years, etc…) as well as small presents. The hostess of the house offers pastries, sweets and hors d’oeuvres to the guests. In Greece, name days are more important than birthday.

Engagement

It is a custom in Greece for people to engage themselves before marrying each other. The man has to ask the hand of the woman from her father. When all is agreed about the wedding, the priest is invited to bless the engagement rings and places them on the left ring-finger of the man and woman. The guests wish “kala stephana” (good crowns = have a good marriage) and “I ora I kali” (that the good hour comes = the marriage) to the couple. This custom is mostly followed outside Athens (islands and the rest of Greece, in villages), when it tends to disappear.

Marriage

In some parts of Greece, the bride has a dowry made by her mother, grandmothers and aunts, consisting of sheets, towels and hand made embroideries, and the father of the bride offers a furnished home to his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding gift. Today, in Athens and other big cities, the bride doesn’t have a dowry anymore. On the day of the wedding, the bride gets dressed, with the help of friends and women from her family, and is kept hidden, for it is bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony. During the wedding ceremony, the best men and best woman (koumbaro and koumbara) give the wedding rings to the priest and cross the crowns (stephana) over each other three times and then place them on the couple’s head. During the Isaiah dance (once the priest has declared them married), the guests throw rice and almond candy wrapped with tough white sugar (ta koufeta) to the new couple. After the ceremony, the bridal couple stays in the church and all the guests kiss them and wish them “na zisete” (long life to you). Then everybody goes to the wedding reception, which is usually a restaurant rented for the night, where they dance, eat and drink all night long. After the reception the new couple leaves for its honeymoon.

Baptism

Baptismal day is one of the most important days in the life of a Greek orthodox. Sacrament of Baptism usually occurs the first year after the baby is born. The baby is called baby and doesn’t have a name until it is baptized. The baby is undressed and wrapped in a white towel. Then the priest blesses the water of the baptismal font and adds olive oil brought by the godparents. He then immerses the baby three times in the blessed water, saying the chosen name (usually the same as the grandmother’s or the grandfather’s name). The baby receives the sacrament from the priest who blesses the baby with “myrrh” (olive oil blessed by the Patriarch) as well as the baby’s clothes. Then, the baby is dressed with white clothes and the priest puts a gold chain with a cross on the baby’s neck and gives the baby its first Holy Communion. At the end of the ceremony, the parents kiss the godparent’s hands and receive the guest’s wishes: “na sas zisei” (long life to your baby). The ceremony is followed by a celebration at the family’s house or a restaurant.

Carnival

In Greece, Carnival is called “Apokries”; it consists of two weeks of feast, beginning from the Sunday of Meat Fare and ends with the start of Lent, called “Clean Monday” (Kathari Deutera). Everyone is costumed and parties in the streets and bars, throwing coloured confetti to each other. The most famous Carnival parade takes place in the city of Patra, where everybody dances and drinks all night and day. This custom is believed to come from paganism, and more precisely from the old festivities worshiping Dionysus, the god of wine and feast.

Clean Monday

(Kathari Deutera) It is the first day of the season of Lent (Saracosti) during which families go for a picnic and fly kites.

Easter

It is the more important celebration for the Greeks, even more than Christmas. Women dye eggs in red, godparents buy news shoes, clothes and a candle to the kids and, in villages, the exterior of the houses and the streets are whitewashed. During Good Friday, the day of mourning, the Epitaphio, the tomb of Christ with its icon, decorated with thousands of flowers, is taken out of the church and carried away through the village or the neighbourhood (in the big cities) to the cemetery followed by a slow procession. At the cemetery everyone lights a candle for the dead; then, the Epitaphio with its procession returns to the church where the believers kiss the image of the Christ. During the night of the Holy Saturday (Megalo Savato), everybody dresses well and goes to the church where a ceremony is hold. Just before midnight, the priest turns off all of the churches’ lights, symbolizing the darkness and silent of the tomb; at midnight, the priest lights a candle from the Eternal Flame, sings “Christos Anesti” (Christ arises) and offers the flame to light the candle of the people that are the closest to him. Everyone passes the flame one to another while the priests sing the Byzantine Chant Christos Anesti. Then, everyone goes out of the church to the streets. The church’s bells ring continuously and people throw fireworks. People say one to another “Christos Anestis”, to which the reply to is “Alithos Anesti” (indeed he has rise). People go home and share with their families the Resurrection Meal which consists of Mayiritsa (a lamb’s entrails soup), Tsoureki (Easter cake) and Easter biscuits. The following day, Easter Sunday, is spend in family around a meal consisting of roasted lamb (turned over open pits), various appetizers and a lot of wine and ouzo. Everybody dances and celebrates until late in the night.

Independence

The Greek Independence Day is celebrating Greece’s liberation from the Ottoman domination the 25th of March 1821.

The NO

During this feast the Greeks celebrate the day that Metaxas said no to the Italians who wanted to invade the country. It is the celebration of the heroic OXI (NO), most of the Greeks put a Greek flag on their windows and a march is organized by schools, where the students wear a blue and white uniform and hold Greece’s flag.

Greek superstitions

Greek superstitions are coming either from religion or paganism. They vary from region to region.

Bread

In villages, bread is considered as a gift of God; old women bless the bread and make the sign of the cross with a knife before slicing it.

Knives

Greeks never hand knives to someone who asks for it for they consider that if they do that they will have a fight with the person. Therefore they set it down on the table and let the other person take it.

The Evil Eye

Some Greeks, especially in villages, believe that someone can catch the evil eye, or “matiasma”, from someone else’s jealous compliment or envy. A person who has caught the evil eye usually feels bad physically and psychologically. To avoid the matiasma, those who believe in it wear a charm: a little blue marble glass with an eye painted on it or a blue bracelet. Blue is believed to be the colour that wards off the evil eye but it is also believed that people with blue eyes are givers of the matiasma. Garlic is another way to ward off the evil eye, and one can sometimes see it hanging in a corner of some houses. Garlic, as well as onion, is also considered of having a great healing power by many Greeks. If someone is feeling ill, they will advice him to eat garlic.

Priest

Greek Orthodox priests (popes) are very revered and the custom is to kiss a priest’s hand in respect when meeting one; today this custom is only followed in villages. But it is believed that seeing a black cat and a priest during the same day is bad luck.

The expression ``Piase kokkino`` (touch red)

When two people say the same thing together they immediately say “piase kokkino” one another and both have to touch any red item they can find around him. This happens because Greeks believe that saying the same thing is an omen and that the two persons will get into a fight or an argument if they don’t touch a red thing.

Spiting

Some Greeks believe that spitting chases the devil and the misfortune away. That is why when someone talk about bad news (deaths, accidents, etc…) the others slightly spit three times saying “ftou, ftou, ftou”. Another example is that someone that compliments a baby, a child or even an adult for its beauty, has also to spit three times on the complimented person.

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