Greek traditions and customs can be better understood if you decide to actually to go on holiday on this beautiful land: you will experience first hand how the people here are so tied to the classical myths but still contemporary in their lifestyle.
The countless tourists coming to Greece by plane or ferry (click here) are attracted not only by its fantastic beaches, but also by its ancient culture, its history and its traditions.
Photo Public Domain
Greek traditions are linked very deeply to religion as the Greek people are very religious. On the other hand, in some ways, they feel deep down a clear trust in faith. If it is true that the Greeks are very religious, it is also true that they are also very superstitious – and you can see this peculiar psychological trait perfectly on many occasions. As you proceed inland, getting to the small villages populated by shepherds, or however you move away from the big cities and touristy places, and more you will get how, hand in hand, the belief in superstition increases.
Throughout the year every religious or pagan celebration brings with it at least one rite of good luck or to ward off the evil eye. All holidays refer directly to the many local and ancient traditions, but they are also very present in everyday life. Here are some examples, just to get you an idea:
– For New Year (which for the Greeks coincide with the feast of St. Basil), during the evening of December 31, many young people go from house to house, holding a fruit of pomegranate, a symbol of prosperity, as a sign of good luck for the coming New Year.
Another custom linked to the New Year celebration again in honor of Saint Basil is to eat a traditional dessert called Vassilopita; a coin is put in the dough at the time of preparation, and it will bring lots of luck to the diner that will find during the supper.
Carnival is almost throughout Greece celebrated with masked balls, parades and various games; the most famous Carnival is held in Patras. In Ioanina, a beauutiful town located in the northwestern part of Greece, there are dances around bonfires and a greasy pole is put in the main square of the city to be climbed on.
Photo CC-BY-SA Tonyesopi
If there is a party, or indeed for any occasion which requires it, the Greek popular music is there. Traditional instruments play the poignant melodies that become as fast and enthralling. Those who have never heard this music will find the pace so addictive and so difficult to resist the call of a dance! The traditional Greek dances are numerous but the most famous is certainly the Sirtaki.
At the end of the carnival, to mark the beginning of Lent, the day is called Kathari Deftera, that is, the Pure Monday; generally families go out for a picnic during which children fly kites in the sky.
During all festive occasions, but also in every-day’s life, the Greeks drink their most traditional drink called ouzo. It is a distillate with anise flavor. It is very easy to find this drink in the Greek taverns where there is also traditional food to taste.
A custom that has certainly not religious origins but has is root rather into the popular superstition, is to spit three times on the ground after having spoken of a deadly event or anything negative! You should not be surprised, therefore, if in the middle of a conversation you see someone spitting on the ground. Although of course this spitting around can seem very rude, it’s just a popular mean to get rid of the negativity.
The evil eye is something Greeks are very afraid of, especially in the countryside and for the elderly, and to remove it and protect themselves, people tend always to wear an amulet with a blue eye shaped (you’ll find it in the shops or stalls selling souvenirs). For the same reason children often wear necklaces with blue beads that should protect them and, indeed, you can see some animals such as mules wearing these amulets. The explanation is very simple: through the eyes the bad thoughts of those who are envious or jealous can be directed to you, and thus wearing these sort of amulets seeks to dissuade him to send you the evil eye.
If you’re lucky enough to be invited to the home of a Greek family, then you must be prepared to eat a lot. Itwill be useless to say “no, it’s enough, thank you”, because by the time that you empty your plate, it will be filled again, and this to the bitter end, up to the dessert. The generosity and kindness of the owners, however, are great enough to make people forget this not always pleasant side. Then, in order to demonstrate their pleasure for your visit, the hosts will also be inviting all his relatives for the meal and all this will translate into a “big, fat Greek lunch” so lively that it will surely leave a beautiful memory for you!
If it is then an invitation for dinner, then it is useless to hurry because before 22 definitely nobody will eat; in the afternoon in Greece it is time for siesta and thus before 17 you do not leave your home (this habit of many southern countries is fully justified, given that in the early afternoon is so hot that you can not go out and perform any activity). The result is that everything is delayed by a few hours respect on the habitual dinner-time, especially if you compare it with the Nordic countries!