Culture in Greece
The Greek or Hellenic culture reflects the shared history and common expectations of all members of the nation, but also, they reflect an ethnic history and culture that predate the nation state and extend to Greek people outside the country's borders.
Greece influenced by its location, at the crossroads between the East and the West and by the many occupations of the Greek people throughout history.
Traditions, religious practices, music, food are all integral part of Greek Culture. Large numbers of festivals, especially religious, are celebrated by the Greeks with great enthusiasm. Greeks were initially known to be orthodox, but lately this has changed with the increasing western influence. The Majority of Greeks, follows the Christianity religious.
In general, the Greeks feel particularly proud of their culture and speak of their country with an intense passion. Greeks are feeling that the culture in Greece is a definition of their national and ethnic belonging.
Greece is in southeastern Europe at the point where the Balkan Peninsula juts into the Mediterranean Sea. Greece is bordered by Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Ionian, Aegean and Cretan seas.
Greece encompasses 50,935 sm. Only 25 percent of the land surface is arable and another 40 percent serves as pasture. There are more than 2,000 islands, 170 of which are inhabited and a long, long coastline.
The climate is predominantly Mediterranean. Hot, dry summers alternate with cold and rainy winters.
Greece has nine regions. These are Macedonia, Thrace, Epirus, Thessaly, Central Greece, Peloponnesus, the Ionian Islands, the Aegean Islands, and Crete. These regions, operated as separate entities in the past, but now they have been integrated into the state and their cultural distinctions are diminishing.
The population rose to 10.264.156 in 1991 reflecting the Greek expansion of national boundaries and the return of ethnic Greeks from the eastern Mediterranean.
During the 19th and 20th century, Turks, Bulgarians and others not ethnically Greeks, left the country in a steady stream that was formalized by the treaties that ended First World War There has also been a continuing emigration of ethnic Greeks seeking employment and opportunity abroad since the mid 19th century. This emigration was initially aimed at the eastern Mediterranean but was redirected toward the United States, Canada and Australia.
Greek language constitutes one of the most important elements of the Greek culture.
It is an Indo European language that has been used in this area since the second millennium BC, although it has considerable changes in now days.
A major division exists between the initial language known as demotic and a formal version known as katharevousa which was developed in the 18th century, to revive elements of ancient Greece. Katharevousa spread very fast in Greece, among political leaders and the intelligentsia. Katharevousa was used for most state documents, in many newspapers and in secondary school instruction until the 70s. Following that period, it was displaced by demotic Greek. The last thing worth mentioning is that the most regions in Greece have their local oral dialects. These dialects never used as writing means. Every region has its local accent.
The Greek Orthodox Church is an integral part of life in Greece where the most important holidays are religious holidays and the national religion is practiced by the majority of the population.
Most of the Greek people are Orthodox Christians and there are small numbers of Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics and members of Protestant denominations.
Greeks are deeply religious people. The Church of Greece is one of the fourteen autocephalous churches of the Orthodox Christian communion, whose territory consists of the whole of Greece except for those parts which belong to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, such as the Dodecanese and Crete and they are members of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece.
Greece is a profoundly Christian Orthodox country with many examples of holy sites such as churches and historic monasteries scattered in the Greek land and islands.
The Orthodox churches in Greece, are characterized by their particular domed architecture and the well decorated interiors with beautiful frescoes and holy icons.
Their unique character charms everyone and varies depending on the construction period and the region of Greece. Churches in Cyclades islands for example, are whitewashed with blue painted domes. In other Greek regions, the churches are painted with earthy colors. Churches in the Ionian Islands are strongly influenced by the Venetian and Renaissance period while on the mainland churches date back from the Byzantine times.
The Greek Orthodox Church traces it's history back to the time of St. Paul who was the first to preach Christianity in Greece. St. Paul visited Athens, Philippi, Thessaloniki, Veria, Corinth and Crete. Eventually the Christianity spread through Greece from these cities. In these early days of Christians, the Church of Greece comprised a diocese, with Corinth as the centre, known then as Achaia and considered a city of great importance.
Following three centuries of underground existence and persecution in the Roman Empire, it was the Greek Church and the Greek missionaries that carried the Christian message in both the East and the West. This first period ended in 313 with the edict of toleration, where Constantine the Great divided the Roman Empire and prepared the way for Christianity to become the state religion of the later Roman and Byzantine empires. The geographical area we know today as Greece constituted the diocese of Eastern Illyricum which was self governing.
The Greeks for many centuries identified themselves solely as Christians and especially during the centuries of captivity under the Turks.
The term 'Hellene' as an ethnic name began to appear among the Greeks of the high Middle Ages. All nations living outside the Medieval Greek world of the Byzantine Empire, such as the Russians, the Germans, Khazars, the English, called the native inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire, Greeks. The designations Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic were unknown in the early and medieval Church and they took on their distinct meaning only after the eleventh century. By 733 AD, Greece was acknowledged as part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. During the Byzantine Empire in Greece and the subsequent Turkish occupation, the Christian church in Greece was under the administration of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. After the Greek War of Independence (1821), the provisional president of Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias, began negotiations with the patriarch for the independence of the Greek Church.
The final decision was made when Otto I, the new king of Greece, feared the Turkish government might still be able to influence the politics of Greece through the patriarchate of Constantinople and as such the church in Greece was declared autocephalous in 1833. The dependence was formalized by Constantinople in 1850, with some limitations. Under an agreement made in 1908 between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Holy Synod of Athens, jurisdiction of the churches in America was given to the Church of Greece. In 1927, the statutes regarding the Church were modified resulting in the government controlling the church and attending the Holy Synod meetings.
Today, the Church of Greece is governed by a Holy Synod, presided over by the Metropolitan Archbishop of Athens and assisted by four bishops chosen in regular succession. The Patriarch of Constantinople is still regarded as the spiritual head of the church and all of the Holy Chrism used in Greece is consecrated by him. Organized as a state church, similar to the pattern adopted in the Russian church under Peter the Great of Russia, the ultimate authority is vested in the Synod of Bishops under the presidency of the archbishop of Athens and all Greece.
Customs and Traditions
Most Greek customs and traditions are of a religious nature or coming from paganism. The Greeks are very superstitious and believe in religion but also in supernatural phenomenon. Traditions and superstitions vary from place to place.
Greek Easter is the most important celebration. Easter celebrations begin two months before but Holy Week is the peak of these activities. Based on the Orthodox tradition, the symbolic red Easter eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday. The Greek people believe that dyeing eggs with red color, the color of blood, they celebrate the Resurrection of Christ and life. On Holy Thursday women also bake buns, dough cookies and brioche, the traditional Easter sweet bread. The Godparents buy new shoes, clothes and a candle to the kids.
On Good Friday, the Procession of the Epitáphios of Christ mourns the death of Christ on the Cross with the symbolic coffin, decorated with flowers and carried through the streets by the faithful. During the ceremony everyone lights a candle and then Epitaphios with its procession returns to the church where the believers kiss the image of the Christ. During the night of the Holy Saturday, people, dressed in their formal attire, goes to the church where a ceremony is hold, carrying large white candles. Just before midnight, all of the churches’ lights are turned off symbolizing the darkness and the silence of the tomb.
At midnight, the priest lights a candle from the Eternal Flame, sings 'Christos Anesti' (Christ Arose) and offers the flame to light the candle to the people. Everyone passes the flame one to another while the clergy sings the Byzantine Chant Christos Anesti. The church’s bells ring continuously and people say one to another 'Christos Anesti', to which the reply is 'Alithos Anesti' (Indeed He Has Risen).
The candles they carry are placed in each house and burn through the night to symbolize the Light’s return to the world.
The Good Saturday Dinner takes place after midnight and consists of mayiritsa soup, tsoureki (Easter cake) and red eggs. The cracking of eggs is a traditional game where challengers attempt to crack each others' eggs. The person whose egg lasts the longest is assured good luck for the rest of the year. The Easter Sunday meal is truly a feast with loads of salads, vegetable and rice dishes, breads, cakes, cookies, and plenty of wines and ouzo. The family roasts the lamb on the spit and served in honor of the Lamb of God who was sacrificed and rose again on Easter.
Clean Monday (Kathari Deftera) is part of the Easter celebration and marks the first day of the season of Lent during which, families go for a picnic, fly kites and feast at local taverns. For Greeks, Clean Monday is one of the most festive holidays of the year.
Mardi Gras (Carnival)
There is a main period of feasting in Greece that covers mardi gras (Apokries). For the Orthodox Church, is the three week period before the Ash Monday when the 40 day long Lenten Fast begins.
The festivities in Greece have their origins in ancient Greece and the celebrations in honor of the God Dionysus, the God of wine and joy that used to take place to celebrate the end of winter. Children almost universally follow the tradition of dressing up and this time f period is a good excuse for fun for the grownups too. Home parties are organized every weekend, reaching their peak in the third weekend of the period and all bars and clubs are decorated to welcome the dressed up party goers. Plaka in Greece is the epicenter of action during this last weekend with thousands of people gathering there and following a self styled parade of the costumed masses.
The celebrations in Greece differ, depending on the particular local traditions. Patra in the Peloponnese claims to be the carnival capital.
A huge parade of thousands of dancing people and kitsch carnival floats ends up with the burning up of the king of the carnival. Ash Monday is a national holiday and traditionally, is a day when people head outdoors to fly kites and enjoy picnics or family meals such as Vegetables, Pickles, taramosalata, grilled octopus, lots of wine and the special flat bread made especially for this day (the Lagana).
Greeks celebrates the Independence Day the declaration of the Independence War against the Ottomans on March 25th, 1821. Apart from a national celebration, this day is also a religious celebration dedicated to the Annunciation of Virgin Mary.
October 28th: The Ohi Day
On October 28th, the Greeks celebrate the day when the Greek dictator Metaxas said No to the Italians who wanted to invade the country during the World War II. It is the celebration of the heroic NO. That day, most of the Greek people put a Greek flag on their windows or balconies. A parade takes place with the participation of
school students, wearing a blue and white uniform and holding Greek flags and
1st of May, ProtoMagia
1st of May in Greece, has a double meaning. It is the Workers Day, a holiday first popularized by the Soviet Union to honor and celebrate, mainly the economical achievements of workers, established in 1880’s. This day, you can expect worker’s groups and unions to be active that day. Major strikes are often scheduled for May Day. Since May Day corresponds with the peak of the flower season, flower shows and festivals are common, having their roots back in ancient Greece. A very common commemoration is the making of a May wreath which is hung on doorways, balconies and in chapels.
Most of May wreaths are really colorful and attractive, signing people’s excitement about the new beginning of nature, life, peace and happiness. People usually enjoy small trips, as well as have a break with a picnic in the countryside. In some places in Greece, daughters in law and girls in traditional costumes collect flowers and exchange nature’s goods.
In Greece, everyone celebrates the Name Day, of the saint that bears the same name. Everyone named after a saint honored by the church, celebrates his name on a given day of the year. Because of the naming rules in Greece, in many cases, the same names have been used in an unbroken line for hundreds of years in a single family. Often, these names came into use because of a local association with a saint. When someone has a name day, his friends and family visit him without invitation and offer good wishes and small presents. The host greets the guests with pastries, sweets and appetizers.
For the Greek society, it is very important for a couple to become engaged, rather than simply eloping. The engagement period is the time when the two families can become acquainted. The man has to ask for the hand of the woman from her father and her family, while the two families give presents to bride and groom. The importance of engagement has not changed over time. The couple exchanges wedding rings that are worn on the left hand. After the wedding these rings will be worn on the right hand.
The Greek families often hold a large engagement party. The priest will sometimes attend this event and publicly bless the engagement rings. After the couple receives this public blessing, friends and family gather around, shouting out good wishes for the couple.
The engagement period in Greece may last for a long period and it is like a commitment to the families.
Marriage in Greece is another big celebration. In many places, the bride still has a dowry made by her mother, her grandmothers and aunts, consisting of sheets, towels and handmade embroideries, while the father of the bride traditionally offers a furnished home to his daughter and son in law as a wedding gift. On the day of the wedding, the bride gets dressed with the help of her girlfriends and women from her family. The groom must not see the bride during that time because it is believed that is bad luck for the groom to see her before the ceremony.
During the wedding ceremony, the best men and best woman give the wedding rings to the priest, cross the crowns three times and then place them on the couple’s head. At the time the priest has declared them married, the guests throw rice and almond candy wrapped with white sugar to the couple. After the ceremony, the bridal couple stays in the church and all the guests kiss them and wish them 'Long Life to You'. Then everybody goes to the wedding reception, which is usually a restaurant rented for the night, where people dance, eat and drink all night long. The following day, the new couple leaves for its honeymoon.
Baptism day is one of the most important days of a Greek Orthodox. Until the baby is baptized it is often called baby and doesn’t have a name. The Baptismal in Greece, usually takes place the first year after the baby is born.
At the time of the Baptism, the baby is undressed and wrapped in a white towel. The priest blesses the water and adds olive oil brought by the Godparents. The priest, then, immerses the baby three times saying the chosen name. (Children in Greece are traditionally named after their grandmother or the grandfather.) The priest also blesses the baby and the baby clothes with myrrh (olive oil blessed by the Patriarch). The child is then dressed in white clothes. The priest puts a gold chain with a cross on the baby's neck and gives the baby its first Holy Communion. At the end of the ceremony, the parents kiss the godparent’s hands and receive guests’ wishes. The ceremony is followed by a celebration at the family’s house or a restaurant.
The Greek word philoxenia means hospitality. Philoxenia is defined literally as love of strangers, which is something they are extremely proud of. Greece being a popular tourist destination around the world, welcomes foreigners with warmth. The Greek people are known for their friendliness and openness to meeting new people and doing business with them.
Greeks are very superstitious people and believe in the supernatural or the paranormal, but the superstitions vary from region to region.
Bread: In Greece, especially in villages, bread is considered a God gift. Because of that women bless the bread and make the sign of the cross with a knife before slicing it.
Evil Eye: Many Greeks believe that someone can catch the evil eye (matiasma) from jealous or envious people. Those who have caught the evil eye usually feel bad physically and mentally. To avoid the matiasma one must wear a charm. A little blue marble glass with an eye painted on it or a blue bracelet. Blue is believed to be the color that protects against the evil eye. Garlic is another way to guard against the evil eye, and people often hang it in their houses.
Knives: Greeks never hand a knife to someone because they believe it will bring a fight with the person. Therefore they set it down on the table and let the other person take it.
Priests: Orthodox priests are very revered. In villages the custom is to kiss their hand in respect when meeting them. But it is believed that seeing a black cat and a priest during the same day is bad luck.
Spitting: Many Greeks believe that spitting chases the devil away. That is why when someone talks about bad news or compliments babies, the others slightly spit three times saying 'ftou, ftou, ftou'.
Tuesday the 13th: In Greece the unlucky day is Tuesday the 13th. Tuesday is considered to be the unluckiest day of the week because on Tuesday, May 29th, 1453 the city of Constantinople was besieged and taken by the Ottoman Turks. Greeks also consider the number 13 to be good luck and the main theory is the belief that having 12 apostles of Christ made Christ the 13th of the group. However, the combination of Tuesday and 13 as Tuesday the 13th of the month is considered a very unlucky day within the Greek culture.
Touch Red (Piase kokkino): Greeks believe that saying the same thing at the same time is an omen and the two people will get into a fight. Because of this, when people say the same thing together they must immediately follow by telling one another 'Touch Red' (piase kokkino) and both have to touch any red item they can find around them.
Theatre was born in Greece. The city state of Classical Athens, which became a significant cultural and political power during this period, was its centre, where it was institutionalised as part of a festival called the Dionysia, which honored the god Dionysus. Tragedy (600 BC), comedy (486 BC) and the satyr play were the three dramatic genres to emerge there. Athens exported the festival to its numerous colonies and allies in order to promote a common cultural identity.
The word 'tragedy' is a compound of two Greek words. 'Goat' (tragos) and 'ode' (Odi) which means song. This etymology indicates a link with the practices of the ancient Dionysian cults. It is impossible however, to know with certainty how these fertility rituals became the basis for tragedy and comedy.
Cinema in Greece first appeared in 1896 but the first actual cine theatre was opened in 1907. In 1914 the Asti Films Company was founded and the production of long films started. Golfo, a well known traditional love story, is the first Greek long movie, although there were several minor productions before this. In 1944 Katina Paxinou was honored with the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for For 'Whom the Bell Tolls'.
The 50s and 60s are considered as the Greek Golden age of Cinema. Directors and actors of this era, were recognized as important historical figures in Greece and some gained international acclaim:. Mihalis Kakogiannis, Alekos Sakellarios, Melina Mercouri, Nikos Tsiforos, Iakovos Kambanellis, Katina Paxinou, Nikos Koundouros, Ellie Lambeti, Irene Papas etc.
Cacoyannis also directed 'Zorba the Greek' with Anthony Quinn which received Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film nominations. During the 1970s and 1980s Theo Angelopoulos directed a series of notable and appreciated movies. His film Eternity and a Day won the Palme d'Or and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.
There were several traditions of painting in ancient Greece. Not all painting techniques are equally well represented in the archaeological record. The most respected form of art, were the mobile paintings on wooden boards, technically described as panel paintings.
Also, the tradition of wall painting in Greece goes back to the Minoan and Mycenaean Bronze Age, with the lavish fresco decoration of sites like Knossos and Mycenae.
Much of the figural or architectural sculpture of ancient Greece was painted colorfully.
This aspect of Greek stonework is described as polychrome. Due to intensive weathering, polychromatic on sculpture and architecture has substantially or totally faded in most cases.
The Byzantine music
The Byzantine music in Greece is also of major significance to the history and development of European music, as liturgical chants became the foundation and stepping stone for music of the Renaissance.
It is also certain that Byzantine music included an extensive tradition of instrumental court music and dance.
There survive a few but explicit accounts of secular music. A characteristic example is the accounts of pneumatic organs, whose construction was further advanced in the eastern empire prior to their development in the west following the Renaissance.
Byzantine instruments in Greece, included the guitar, single, double or multiple flute, timpani, lyre and cymbals