While some will always honor the ways of the past, many modern Greek families have found ways to mesh the old with the new. Each family and region is unique, but there are general traditions you'll see many types of Greek families following in Greece or around the world.
Everyday Family Life
Respect, unity, and hospitality are the three words Charalampos (Bobby) Afionis says best describe Greek family values. Bobby currently lives in the U.S. with his wife, Kristen, and their daughter, Evangelia, but he grew up in the suburbs of Athens, Greece. Although he's far from his first home, family traditions still play an active role in his life because of these Greek cultural family values.
Greek families often grow their homes or neighborhoods to house their adult children and extended family members so they can all stay close. For many, this means adding floors to their existing homes so each immediate family can have their own space. Bobby adds, "Family homes are not typically sold, but are passed down from generation to generation."
Traditional Gender Roles
Men are providers who are expected to work, and all Greek men are required to serve in the county's military in order to reside there. In terms of the household, men don't typically do housework or standard childcare duties. The modern Greek woman is educated and working because the economy requires it. Women are typically responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing duties. Because large families often live together, all the women help with these duties for the whole family.
Although more Greeks are starting to work on weekends, the tradition of family meals on days off still persists. Everyone in a family is expected to gather for lunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays.
Showing respect to all people, especially family members and people you've just met is a priority for Greeks. For example, you would say "Yassou" to greet a close friend, but you'd say "Yassas" to an older person or stranger. Anyone with whom you have a close personal relationship would also receive a kiss on each cheek as a greeting.
In Greek culture, your nameday is almost more important than your birthday. Each person is named after one of the many Greek Orthodox Saints, and their nameday coincides with the day set aside for that Saint. On this day you are expected to be home with the doors open and snacks and drinks at the ready. All of your friends and family members are expected to drop in and visit saying, "'χρονια πολλα (xronia polla)" or "many years."
For Greek families, Christmas Day is more of a religious holiday where the women typically go to church together. The entire family gathers for a meal at home that includes vasilopita for dessert. Inside this cake a coin is hidden, and a piece is set aside for Christ and the house before each person, in order from oldest to youngest, receives a piece. The person who finds the coin in their slice is said to have good luck. Some families serve the cake on Christmas while others reserve it for New Year's Eve.
New Year's Eve
Known as Protohronia, Greek New Year's Eve is more like an American Christmas. Families and children stay up until midnight when Saint Basil, or Agios Vasilis, delivers gifts for everyone. The gifts are usually delivered creatively says Bobby, who remembers one year seeing the gifts lowered from the roof in a net by a crane that was there to build another floor on their family home.
Birth of a Baby
After a baby is born into a Greek family, the mother is expected to stay in the home for 40 days. During that time, all close friends and family members will come to meet the new baby. They'll each ftou, or lightly spit, at the baby to protect him or her from curses or bad luck and provide the child with a gift of gold, usually a coin or piece of jewelry.
Engagement and Marriage
Wedding celebrations in Greek families are just like you see in the movies, large and loud. Although many modern couples opt for a civil union first so they can save up for the grand affair, there is almost always a big celebration at some point. During the actual ceremony, the bride and groom never speak. Once a couple is engaged, they wear their engagement ring on their left hand. The ring is moved to their right hand after they are married.
In the days before the wedding, close friends and family gather at the couples home to help them prepare it with ceremonies like To Krevati where all unmarried female attendants of the bride make the couple's bed with new sheets. The groom then looks it over and gives it his blessing. Guests throw money onto the bed as marriage gifts then toss children onto the bed to roll around as a means to promote fertility.
The Wedding Procession
On the wedding day, both the bride and groom make their way to the church through elaborate processionals that feature all the wedding guests and musicians playing instruments. The bride is then walked to the church by her dad where he presents her to her groom before entering.
Keeping Families Close
Families serve as the primary support system in Greek families and are treated with great care because of their role. While each family may be different, there are many values, traditions, and customs that set Greek families apart from those in other cultures.