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Greek Island Traditions

The Greek Islands, like the mainland are rooted in traditions, customs and superstitions that enthrall and fascinate the visitor. Many of the traditions and customs are rooted in religion although many pagan celebrations till exist. Whilst customs and superstitions may vary from island to island and in some cases between villages, there are some which are universal across all of the islands. We take a look at a small selection of traditions and customs still adhered to today across the islands.


Many old women bless their loaf of bread make the sign of the cross on the bottom with a knife before cutting it. This because bread is associated as the body of Christ and bread is a god given gift. Many islanders still fear the ‘Matiasma’ or evil eye, which they believe you can catch from someone else who has jealous thoughts about you or even just blue eyes! The evil eye will make you feel physically and emotionally ill, but there is one way that you can guard yourself from its evil and that is by wearing a small blue glass charm with an eye painted on it. Garlic will also ward off the evil eye and for this reason it is often hung in the corner of some village houses. If someone is believed to be suffering from a curse of the evil eye then they will be encouraged to eat garlic. If you need a knife from someone, don’t expect them to hand it to you. Greeks are very superstitious about knives and to hand a knife to a person directly means that you will have to fight them. Greeks therefore always put the knives down onto a surface rather than into your hands and you should do the same to avoid offence. Spiting is frowned upon in many countries, but in Greece it is seen as warding off the devil and bad luck. If someone is recalling an accident or receives bad news those listening will spit three times and say “ftou, ftou, ftou.” The same occurs if someone compliments another person for their beauty or comments on a handsome child or baby. In most Western countries Friday the 13th is viewed with caution, but in Greece the day to beware of is Tuesday the 13th. If two people are talking and they both say the same thing, this is seen as a bad omen and they immediately say ‘touch red’ or ‘piase kokkino’ and this is followed by a quick flurry of the eyes to find a red object. This ensures that those two people will not end up in a fight or argument.

Religious Superstitions

Being a country with a strong uniform religion, Orthodox priests are revered and should you meet one, you should kiss his hand. However, if you see a priest and a black cat on the same day, prepare for some bad luck. Most Greek homes have a corner dedicated to the Orthodox Saints; it is usually a shelf with lots of religious items on like icons, holy water, crucifixes and an oil lamp which is constantly lit. The icons chosen for the shelf are those who bear the names of family members along with Jesus and his mother Mary.

Name Day Celebrations

Most Greek Christian names are those of some Orthodox saint and this ensures that there are plenty of celebrations to celebrate each name day. In fact a name day is more important than a birthday. Whenever a person has a name day all of their friends and relatives call into their home to wish them health and happiness and bring small gifts. The person with the name day provides alcohol, sweets pastries and hors d’oeuvres to the guests.

March Martis

Greeks celebrate the coming of the spring with a customary giving of traditional bracelets made of red and white thread called ‘martis’ on March 1st. It is mainly children and women who exchange these bracelets and it is said that they protect children from the heat of the early spring sun burning their cheeks. The red thread is representative of rosy cheeks and the white of a pale complexion. The Greeks wear their martis until the Greek Orthodox Easter Midnight Mass, which is the time when every town and village lights a bonfire and everyone throws their martis into the fire.


Known as All Souls Day, the first Saturday before Pentecost is the day that Greeks revere and honours its dead by holding church and memorial services. Each family provides a list of names of dead relatives to the local priest, who reads them out during the special church service. ‘Koliva’, which are grave-shaped mounds of wheat, fruit, sugar and honey, handed out to everyone at the service. The evening of All Souls marks the start of Apokries or Carnival and people dress in costumes and visit each others houses.


The Carnival period lasts for around three weeks before Lent begins and it is a time for non-stop celebration with many weddings, festivals and parties. There are three important feasts during this period each one takes place on a Sunday. The first feast is ‘Protofoni’ or ‘First Voice’, the second is called ‘Kreatini’ or ‘Meat Filled’ because you can eat meat during this week and the third feast is ‘Tirini’ or ‘Cheese Filled’ because in this week you can eat cheeses and pasta.  On the last night of carnival people light bonfires in the streets and sing and dance; brave young lads jump over the flames of the smaller bonfires to allegedly burn away any fleas.