Customs and traditions in Greece and Cyprus are either of a religious character or coming from paganism. Most of the traditions and festivals still celebrated today are religious. Traditions and superstitions vary from island to island, village to village and from region to region. Here are some of the many traditions still honoured by all of the Greeks and Cypriots, no matter their age, until today.
Name Day Celebration
Most of the Greeks and Greek-Cypriots owe their names to a religious saint. A very important Greek tradition that takes place in the entire Greece and Cyprus is that everyone who has a name coming from a saint celebrated by the church celebrates his name on the given day of the year. On the “name day” of someone, his friend and family visit him without invitation and offer their wishes (long life to you, live many years, etc…) as well as small presents. The hostess of the house offers pastries and sweets to the guests.
It is a custom in Greece and Cyprus for people to engage themselves before marrying each other. The man has to ask the hand of the woman from her father. When all is agreed about the wedding, the priest is invited to bless the engagement rings and places them on the left ring finger of the man and woman. The guests wish “kala stephana” (good crowns = have a good marriage) and “I ora I kail” (that the good hour comes = the marriage) to the couple. This custom is mostly followed in villages and small towns.
During the wedding ceremony, the best men and woman (koumbaro and koumbara) give the wedding rings to the priest and cross the crowns (stephana) over each other three times and then place them on the couple’s head. During the Isaiah dance (once the priest has declared them married), the guests throw rice and almond candy wrapped with tough white sugar (koufeta) to the new couple. After the ceremony, the bridal couple stays in the church and all the guest kiss them and wish them “na zisete” (long life to you). Then everybody goes to the wedding reception, which is usually a restaurant rented for the night, where they dance, eat and drink all night long. After the reception the new couple leaves for its honeymoon.
The baby is undressed and wrapped in a white towel. Then the priest blesses the water of the baptismal font and adds olive oil brought by the godparents. He then immerses the baby three times in the blessed water, saying the chosen name (usually the same as the grandmother’s or the grandfather’s name). The baby receives the sacrament from the priest who blesses the baby with “myrh” (olive oil blessed by the Patriarch) as well as the baby’s clothes. Then, the baby is dressed with white clothes and 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 the guest’s wishes; “na sas zisei” (long life to your baby). The ceremony is followed by a celebration at the family’s house or a restaurant.
Clean Monday (Kathari Deutera)
It is the first day of the season of Lent (Saracosti) during which families go for a picnic and fly kites.
In villages, bread is considered as a gift of God; old women bless the bread and make the sign of the cross with a knife before slicing it.
The Evil Eye
Some Greeks and Greek-Cypriots, especially in villages, believe that someone can catch the evil eye, or “matiasma”, from someone else’s jealous compliment or envy. A person who has caught the evil eye usually feels bad physically and psychologically. To avoid the evil eye/matiasma, those believe in it 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 wards off evil eye but it is also believed that people with blue eyes are givers of the matiasma.
Greeks and Greek Cypriots never hand knives to someone who asks for it; because they consider that if they do that they will have to fight with the person. Therefore they set it down the table and let the other person take it.
Greek Orthodox priests (popes) are very revered and the custom is to kiss a priest’s hand in respect when meeting one. There is also the belief that seeing a black cat and a priest during the same day is bad luck.
Some Greeks believe that spitting chases the devil and the misfortune away. That is why when someone talks about bad news (deaths, accidents, etc..) the other slightly spit three times saying “ftou, ftou, ftou”. Another example is that someone that compliments a baby, a child or even an adult for its beauty, has also to spit three times on the complimented person.
Tuesday the 13th
Unlike the western belief, in Greece the unlucky day is Tuesday the 13th and not Friday the 13th.