Greek culture and customs
A large part of the tradition and the holidays that are celebrated in Greece today are religious in nature.
The tradition and superstition varies from island to island, from village to village and from region to region.
Here are some of the traditional Greek holidays that are still followed by all Greeks, regardless of the time, until today.
Celebration of the name day
The majority of Greeks were named after a saint. A very important Greek tradition that takes place all over Greece is that everyone who has been named after a saint celebrates his name on a certain day of the year. On this "name day" one is visited by friends and family without invitation, and the name day is congratulated (one wishes a long life etc.).), small gifts are also quite common. The mistress of the house serves the guests with cakes, sweets and all kinds of dishes.
In Greece the name day is more important than the birthday.
In Greece, it is customary for the future spouses to get engaged before the wedding. The man must ask for the hand of the woman to her father.
When the wedding is decided, a priest is called to bless the engagement with rings, and places them on the left hand of the husband and wife. The guests wish the new couple "kala stefana" (a happy marriage), or "i ora i kali" (that the beautiful hour comes = marriage).
This custom is mostly followed outside Athens (on the islands and in the rest of Greece, even in the villages), where it is slowly fading away.
In some parts of Greece, the mother, grandmothers and aunts prepare the bride’s dowry. This is made up of bedding, towels and hand sewn items. The bride’s father offers to furnish the apartment for his daughter and son-in-law with furniture as a wedding gift. But nowadays in Athens or in other bigger cities the bride does not have to have a dowry anymore. On the wedding day, the bride gets dressed with the help of her family friends and women and hides herself, because it is not a good omen if the groom sees the bride before the wedding ceremony.
During the wedding ceremony, the godfather and godmother (Koumbaros and Koumbara) give the rings to the priest, the crowns (Stefana) are crossed three times over the heads of the bride and groom, and both are then crowned. After the dance of Isaiah (when the priest has declared them married), the guests throw rice and almond candies candied with white sugar (ta koufeta) to the new bride and groom.
After the ceremony the couple stays in the church and all the guests kiss them and wish them "na zisete" (a long life). Afterwards, everyone goes to the wedding party, which usually takes place in a rented restaurant, where everyone dances together and eats and drinks all night long.
After the ceremony, the couple goes on their honeymoon.
The day of baptism is the most important day in the life of an Orthodox Greek. The sacred mystery of baptism is usually performed a year after the birth of the child. The baby is only called baby until then, and has no name until it is baptized.
The baby is undressed and wrapped in a white towel. Afterwards the priest blesses the baptismal water and adds olive oil, which was brought by the godparents. Then he dips the baby three times in the holy water, pronouncing the chosen name (this is usually the same as from grandma or grandpa, usually paternal). The baby receives the holy secret from the priest, who blesses the baby with the "me" (olive oil blessed by the patriarch), along with the baby’s clothes. Then the baby is dressed in white and the priest puts a golden chain with a cross pendant around her neck and the baby receives the First Communion.
At the end of the ceremony, the parents kiss the hands of the godparents and receive the congratulations from the other guests: "na sas zisei" (a long life for the baby).
The ceremony is usually followed by a celebration in the family home or in a restaurant.
In Greece, the Carnival is called "Apokries"; it includes two weekly celebrations, on the Sunday before White Carnival, and ends with the beginning of the Great Fast, which is also called "Pure Monday" (Kathari Deutera). Everyone dresses up and has fun on the streets and in the bars throwing confetti. The most famous carnival parade is held in the city of Patras, where everyone dances and drinks all day long.
It is believed that this custom comes from paganism, more precisely from the ancient festivals celebrating Dionysus, the god of wine and feasting.
Easter is the most important holiday for the Greeks. It is even more important than Christmas. The women dye eggs in red, the godparents buy new shoes, clothes, and a candle for the children, in the villages the outside facades of the houses are colored and the streets are cleaned. On Good Friday, a day of mourning, the epitaphio, the tomb of Christ with his image decorated with thousands of flowers, is brought out of the church and carried through the village or neighborhood (in larger towns) to the cemetery, followed by a slow parade. At the cemetery, everyone lights a candle for the dead; then the epitaphio is brought back to the church with a parade, where the faithful kiss the image of Christ.
On the night of Great Saturday (Megalo Savato), everyone dresses appropriately and goes to church, where a liturgy is held. Just before midnight, the priest turns off the lights in the church, symbolizing the darkness and silence of a tomb; at midnight, the priest lights a candle with the Eternal Flame and sings "Hristos Anesti" (Christ is Risen), offering the flame of the candle to the people close to him. Everyone passes the flame to each other while the priests sing Byzantine songs about the resurrection of Christ. Then everyone goes out of the church into the street. The church bells ring continuously and the people prepare fireworks. People say "Hristos Anesti" to each other, to which they reply "Alithos Anesti" (He is truly risen).
People go home and enjoy the Easter lunch, which consists of the traditional magiritsa (soup made of lamb innards), tsureki (Easter cake), and Easter cookies. The next day, Easter Sunday, the family sits around a table, usually with roasted lamb (from the grill) and many appetizers, lots of wine and ouzo. Everyone dances and celebrates until late at night.
In Greece Christmas is celebrated on 25. December celebrated. The custom is that on Christmas Eve, children go from house to house in the villages, wishing the hosts well, singing a Christmas carol ("Kalanda"). After that they will be rewarded with sweets or money. For dinner, which is prepared for Christmas Eve, "the bread of Christ" ("Hristopsomo"), in the form of large pieces of various shapes, on the crust of which there are decorations that usually represent the work that the family is engaged in, is something very typical. On Christmas Eve, meat is usually offered, namely lamb and pork.
In the households of Greece, decorating a Christmas tree was not so common. The thing that decorates nearly every Greek household at Christmas is basil wrapped around a small wooden cross, attached with a wire over a bowl of holy water. Once a day a member of the family, usually the mother, dips the wooden cross with basil in holy water and sprinkles it on all the rooms in the house.
In this way, they say, the evil spirits – "Kalikanzaroi" are driven away, which live in the center of the earth, and come into a house through the chimney.