Situated in the Mediterranean, Greece features a rich culture full of customs and rituals that have been passed down from generation to generation. The tight-knit family structure has been an important part of life since ancient times, and there are many family traditions and events that continue to live on.
Engagement and Marriage Traditions
In Greek families, it is customary for male suitors to ask their girlfriends' fathers for permission to marry their daughters. After the father has given his blessing, the engagement process can begin. When the bride-to-be agrees to marry her beau, a priest typically blesses the engagement rings before placing them on the bride and groom's left ring fingers.
Greek wedding traditions vary from region to region. In rural areas, such as the Greek islands, brides have dowries. Brides' female relatives contribute textiles, including towels and sheets, while their fathers may provide furnished homes to the newly married couples. In some parts of the country, the couple's friends and family go to their future home a few days before the wedding and place envelopes of money on their bed. After that, a baby is placed on the bed to bring the couple good luck with fertility and prosperity.
The Wedding Day
On the wedding day, the bride and groom are separated until the actual marriage ceremony. The bride's friends and family help her dress, while the groom's friends and family do the same for him. While getting dressed, everyone celebrates the occasion with drinking and music. Many families actually have live musicians that then follow the bride and groom to the church. At the church, the couple exchanges vows before they enter the building. The priest blesses their rings again and then places them on their right ring fingers. The bride and groom exchange wedding crowns three times and then walk around the altar three times, which symbolizes their first steps as a married couple. They dance the wedding dance, the Isaiah, at the ceremony, and everyone dances the Kaslamantiano at the reception.
In Greek Orthodox families, baptism is very important and occurs in the first year of a child's life. The naked baby is wrapped in a white towel and is immersed three times in blessed water. He receives his first sacrament from the priest, and then is dressed in white clothing. The priest then places a gold cross necklace on the baby and gives him his first Holy Communion. The godparents are typically the baby's parents' best man and maid of honor. After the church ceremony, wedding guests throw rice and candied almonds at the couple.There is usually a huge celebration at a restaurant or a family member's home.
Many Greek people are religious, so Easter and Christmas are very important family holidays.
Clean Monday, or the first day of Lent, kicks of the long Easter season. Families typically go to a park, have a picnic and fly kites on this day. In between Clean Monday and Easter Sunday, Greeks clean their homes, whitewash the streets, buy new shoes and clothing and dye eggs red. On Good Friday, the tomb of Christ is decorated with thousands of flowers and taken from the church to the cemetery, where followers light candles to remember their deceased relatives. The night before Easter, everyone goes to church and at midnight the priest turns off all the lights and ignites a candle from the Eternal Flame. The flame is passed from candle to candle while everyone sings, "Christos Anesti." After this ceremony, the church bells ring throughout the night and people celebrate with fireworks. On Easter Sunday, families feast on lamb, drink ouzo and wine, and dance and celebrate into the night.
The Greek Christmas season begins with 40 days of fasting and then doesn't end until New Year's Day. Families begin baking traditional breads and pastries the week before Christmas Day. There are two main types of traditional pastries: the Christopsomo (Christ's bread) and Vasilopeta (St. Basil's bread). Christopsomo bread is sweet bread served with dried fruits, nuts and honey. The baker places an ornament that represents the family's main profession, such as a fish for a fishing family, into the bread's crust. Vasilopeta is a sponge cake that has a coin baked into it. Greek families believe that eating the cake will bring them spiritual and physical blessings in the upcoming year. The family member who finds the coin in his piece is supposed to have great luck in the New Year. He buys a candle with the coin and then lights it in the church on Christmas Day. On New Year's Day, the family lifts their dinner table three times for luck after the meal.
Fun Greek Traditions
You can incorporate some of these Greek traditions into your next family holiday to add a taste of Greek culture and Greek values into your family's holidays. Whether your family is Greek or not, these religious, as well as superstitious, traditions are fun and help to bring family members closer together at critical daily and celebratory moments of life.