“The whole life of a man is but a point in time; let us enjoy it.” – Plutarch

Greece, because of its location, is a country of diverse roots. Greek consciousness is keenly aware that the Greek city-state period laid the basis for Western European civilization and today’s liberal democracies.

Modern Greeks believe strongly in their intellectual powers, intuition, and sense of artistry and they have a keen appreciation of their glorious past. However, four centuries of Ottoman occupation (between the 15th-19th century) created a culture that is a mix of Eastern and Western traditions, beliefs and practices.

The Greek way of life

The famous Greek hospitality

Hospitality in Greece stretches back thousands of years to ancient Greek times. Xenia / Philoxenia (meaning "guest-friendship") is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, the generosity, and courtesy shown to those who are far from home and need a place to rest. For modern Greeks, it is much deeper than that. It is an unspoken cultural law that shows generosity and courtesy to strangers. Greeks are enormously generous when inviting others, or being invited themselves, no matter where they live.

Philoxenia can be as simple as a smile, helping a stranded traveler, buying a meal for a homeless person, or opening your home to strangers, friends, and family. There are countless articles and stories describing the hospitality of Greek people, in Greece and outside Greece.

The Greek way of life

Drinking, eating, dancing

Greeks love to dance, drink and eat so it's not uncommon to see people busting into a dance during family or religious celebrations, or even during a regular family outing at a taverna. The Greek penchant for partying dates back to Dionysus and is evident in the vibrant nightlife of most Greek cities and towns. It's not uncommon in large cities like Athens to see people going out for dinner as late as midnight on a regular weeknight. Most restaurants are open until very late at night, and most Greek bars are open and server liquor until early in the morning. Greeks sure know how to party!

The Greek way of life

Manners, communication and way of life

Greeks are usually very friendly and hospitable people. They're excellent and generous hosts and their hospitality can many times be embarrassing to non-Greeks. Hugging and kissing in public is very common. Greeks usually greet each other (men and women alike) by embracing and kissing each other on both cheeks. Overall Greeks are very demonstrative and affectionate. When someone is invited to a dinner out they're not expected to pay. The person who extends the invitation usually pays for all people invited. Greeks love when foreigners take interest to speak Greek (even a few words). Try speaking a few Greek words or join in Greek dances and your Greek hosts will love you!

Greeks are very verbose and intense in their conversations. They hold many lengthy, argumentative and intense discussions amongst themselves. Non-Greeks will find that they're rambling on forever and arguing about everything just for the shake of arguing. However, this is not quite the case. Greeks respect logic (they've invented it!) and are skilled at pleasing (and often manipulating) other nationalities. They can display great understanding and charm, often appearing extremely flexible and accommodating. They all believe in their own powers of oratory and use a mix of rational arguments and emotive content to get their message through. During casual discussions (even in business meetings) expect Greeks to ask personal questions, such as "are you married?", "do you have kids?" etc. They're not being rude, they just want to get to know you personally.

Elderly people have a lot of authority in Greece and are usually given a lot of respect from younger people. Children usually care for their elderly parents and never put them in elderly homes and men consider it a personal honour and responsibility to care for their family.

Greek traditions

Name days and Saints' days

The tradition of “name days” exists in many European countries, but in Greece, these name days are strongly respected and celebrated. It is customary to call and congratulate someone on their name day. The person celebrating often treats their guests to either an open house or for a drink at a taverna.

Name days are associated with saints days' celebrations. Most people in Greece are named after a Greek Orthodox saint. Saints days are celebrated in chapels and churches.On this day, a panigyri, or festival, is organized after a mass. The feast includes food and drinks, traditional music and dancing until the next morning.

Greek traditions

Easter celebrations

Easter, not Christmas, is the most important religious celebration for Greeks.

The whole of Holy Week is full of traditions, with the dying of eggs (red), the decoration of the epitaphios (the tomb of Christ) with flowers, and the many processions. The night of Holy Saturday is the pinnacle of celebrations. People dress well and gather at the local church, where all lights are turned off. The priest lights a candle with the Eternal Flame, brought especially for the occasion from Jerusalem, and sings the Christos Anesti psalm (Christ has risen). The flame is then offered to everyone present.

On Easter Sunday itself, families enjoy a traditional Easter lunch, which may last well into the late afternoon, with roasted lamb on a pit and many other delicious dishes.

Greek traditions

Apokries, the Greek carnival

Greece’s carnival season, known as “Apokries” or “Apokria” is a period which traditionally begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates on the weekend before Κathari Deftera (Ash Monday) the first day of Lent.

Apokries are celebrated all over Greece with masquerades and parties. The Greek name Apokries means abstention from meat (apo-kreas). This is because the period of Easter Lent begins as soon as the “Apokries” are over. The characteristic of Carnival is disguising and wearing costumes and masks that offer anonymity and freedom of expression.

This festival dates back to ancient times and the ancient Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine, fun, and fertility. Even to this day, in certain local carnivals throughout Greece fertility rites and the phallus are celebrated, and related songs are sung.

The biggest and most popular carnival in Greece is the carnival of Patras.

Apokries, Greek carnival
Apokries, Patras carnival
Greek traditions

Smashing plates

Another tradition Greeks are famous for is the smashing of plates. While the origins of this practice are obscure, it is associated with the expression of joy and happiness, or to show appreciation for the music played at a party. This tradition was banned in 1969 and replaced in live music clubs (bouzoukia) by throwing flowers at the feet of the singer, or at each other. You may still see some plate smashing in private celebrations, although plaster plates are more likely to be used.

Greek traditions

Greek names, Greek baptisms

In Greece, some names are very common. This comes from an ancient tradition that was intended to ensure the continuation of a name. The firstborn is named after a grandparent: if it is a boy, he takes the name of his paternal grandfather. If it is a girl, she takes the name of the maternal grandmother. It is also common that the first child is named after the father’s parents, regardless of whether it is a boy or a girl. It is not uncommon to find cousins with the same names, though they can be adapted or nicknamed differently to avoid confusion.

Another interesting fact is that a child doesn’t have a name until he or she is baptized. Until then, the baby is called “baby”.

Superstitions

Greeks believe in several bizarre superstitions which have persistent – some of them – since ancient times. While the younger generations don’t believe them as strongly as their elders, superstitions have been passed down from one generation to another and are part of the country’s cultural identity. Here are some Greeks superstitions that might make you smile or surprise you.

Tuesday the 13th

Greeks believe that Tuesday the 13th (and not Friday the 13th) is an unlucky day. It’s said that Constantinople fell to the Ottomans on Tuesday, May 29th, 1453 so Greeks have since considered Tuesday an unlucky day. It’s unclear why number 13 is considered unlucky. This is possibly a non-Greek superstition integrated into the Greek superstitions.

The evil eye (mati)

Many cultures believe that receiving the evil eye will cause you misfortune. This was a widely extended belief among many Mediterranean and Asian tribes and cultures. For example, the Italians call the evil eye “malocchio”.

In Greece, the evil eye is known to have been a fixture dating back to the 6th century BC, when it commonly appeared in drinking vessels. The evil eye is cast away through the process of “xematiasma, whereby the “healer” silently recites a secret prayer passed over from an older relative of the opposite sex, usually a grandparent. Such prayers are revealed only under specific circumstances, for according to superstition those who reveal them indiscriminately lose their ability to cast off the evil eye.

According to custom, if one is indeed afflicted with the evil eye, both victim and “healer” then start yawning profusely. The “healer” then performs the sign of the cross three times and emits spitting-like sounds in the air three times. To avoid the evil eye people wear (or carry) a charm, a little blue bead with an eye drawn on it.

evil eye - to mati

The itchy hand

The superstition of the itchy hand is a sign that you will either receive or give money. The Greeks believe that if your right hand is itchy then it means you will get money, however, if your left hand is itchy it means you will give money.

Shoes or slippers sole-side up

According to Greek folklore, overturned shoes or slippers (soles up) are considered very bad luck and even omens of death. Never let your shoes lay upside down. If you accidentally take them off and they land soles up, turn them over immediately.

Pomegranate smashing (New Year's tradition)

Pomegranates, an ancient symbol of prosperity and good luck. On New Year’s Eve at midnight, all the lights in the house are turned out and the pomegranate is smashed on the floor. The more seeds spill out, the more likely it is to bring good fortune, health, and prosperity for the coming year.

Pomegranate sashing, Greek new year's tradition

Touch red (piase kokkino)

When two people speak the same words at the same time, Greeks believe this to be a sign that the two will get into a fight. To avoid the argument, they have to touch something that is red (piase kokkino) immediately.

Touch on red - piase kokkino

Smoked cross on door frame

If you ever visited your Greek friend’s house, you may have noticed a smoked cross on the door frame. Many believe that making a cross sign on the head of the entrance with the Holy Light candle’s ash or smoke from the Easter Eve midnight mass will bring good fortune to the household.

Black cats and Ladybugs

The fear of black cats, even though met in many cultures, it probably originated in ancient Greece where black cats were assumed to be companions of witches. In Greek mythology, Hecate, who could turn into a cat, was a goddess of the underworld. As time passed and mythologies evolved, she became associated with witches, witchcraft, magic, and ghosts. So to this day, seeing a black cat means that bad luck is waiting for you for the rest of the day.

Seeing a ladybug brings the opposite effect. It will bring good luck to you for the rest of the day.

Greek superstitions, black cats and ladybugs

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