The location of Greece on the crossroads of 3 continents has had a dramatic effect on the Greek civilisation and culture. Using the Greek High School history books as an example, civilisation and culture began with the history of older civilisations like the Mesopotamian, the Middle East and Egypt and then moving on to incorporate Prehistoric Greece and Ancient Greek History. As a result, the Greeks took many elements from all these ancient civilisations around them, adapting the ones that were close to their nature and way of life whilst the remaining elements served to further develop and move them forward, like the development of astronomy, sculpture and architecture. Because of these developments a unique civilisation was created which always had the human at its very centre. From these things sprung the renowned Greek philosophy, democracy the arts and sciences that is to be read in any major publication about ancient Greece. It was these things that were created by the ancient Greeks which was offered to the rest of human kind. Still today the Greeks do what their ancestors did 3000 years ago, they hold on to elements and affections both from the east and the west. The links with the East are still strong and the effect of Byzantine Greece can be seen today in the Greek Orthodox religion, and modern Greek Music.
The Ancient elements of Greek music can be found in the music of the Greeks of the Black sea (Pontos), in the ancient sound of the goat skin bagpipes (Tsampounes) on many Greek islands , in the sounds of the flute of the Greek shepherds in northern Greece and in the sounds of the Cretan Lyra in Crete. All of these Byzantine and ancient elements come together with the Smyrneika. Smyrneika is the music that the Greeks of Asia Minor brought with them and is the most typical of Greek folk music. However, as in the past so as today, the Greeks love to mix things, with the consequence that Greek music has adapted and adopted the musical elements from the West including Latin rhythms and sounds, Italian music, Rock and Blues as well as rap and hip hop music.
Religion: The Greek Orthodox religion does have very strict rules and is more loose than other denominations of Christianity. In Greece, a priest can marry (although this is not allowed for monks and bishops). Furthermore, following a divorce, Greeks can remarry in church. As a nation, although the Greeks are religious they are not seriously devout or fundamentalist in their approach to religious matters. The huge majority of Greeks will go only occasionally to the church for a service. This may be for a marriage, funeral or baptism. Everyone will go to the church on Good Friday and Easter Saturday partly to listen and follow the Liturgy but mainly for the spectacular firework displays that are a traditional part of a Greek Easter. Inside the church, the congregation will mostly consist of the older generation of especially women. Having said this, almost every Greek, young or old, will cross themselves when passing by a church and, in cases of danger and need, will cry out “help me Christ and Mary”. Yes, the faith is deep and strong for almost every Greek even if they don’t go to church often or don’t take communion every Sunday leaving such religious rituals to once or twice a year. One of the main reasons for this is, I believe, the Greek spirit of independence and freedom, a spirit which lives within every Greek soul. Greeks have their strong faith to Christ and Mary but also don’t want to be bound by rules that have been dictated from several emperors, patriarchs and monks of the old Byzantium era.
Greek Traditions related with the religion:
Apokries: There is a main period of feasting that covers the 40 days before Easter week , the Sarakosti (the name derives from the number 40, Saranta). This feast starts at the end of the four week Greek Carnival time (Apokries) which begins around the middle of March on Clear Monday (Kathari Deftera). Clear Monday is the first Monday that follows the 4 weeks of Apokria. Even though the Greeks will not feast for the next 40 days, on this particular day, the Kathari Deftera, they will go to the countryside to celebrate with special feast food (Vegetables, Pickles, taramosalata, grilled octopus, lots of wine and the special flat bread made specially for this day (the Lagana). A part of the tradition beloved by children is kite flying. As a child myself I used to make my own kite for that day using newspaper, string and straws. Today the children by plastic ready-made kites from the shops but the enjoyment and the tradition is still very much alive.
Klydonas: The Feast of Klydonas and the jumping over fire during St John’s celebration at the end of June is one of the traditions that has slowly disappeared. The reason why this is so is not surprising. As the cities got bigger and more crowded there was no longer anywhere that one could safely pile up logs and make a fire in the neighbourhood streets. 40 years ago though this was an exciting event that could be experienced in nearly every neighbourhood. A quaint tradition that happened the day before this Feast of Klydonas was for young unmarried girls to try and fish out of a jar of water a ring or coin that had been previously placed there. The Jar would be placed on the roof of buildings and covered by a white cloth and, the next evening, all the neighbours would gather at the doorstep of a house for the opening of the jar with the (Amilito Nero) the silent water. The young girls would fish around in the jar without being able to see deep into its contents, then as one was picking out of the jar a ring or a coin, an older woman would recite poems from the popular Almanac Calendar. These poems were a kind of prophecy for the girls and would ensure that they would find their true love to marry in the near future. This ceremony was followed with the jumping over the fire that had been lit in the middle of the street.
Marriage: The Marriage traditions in Greece vary slightly from place to place. In the islands you will find a more intensive and colourful tradition going on. In the Dodecanese, for example, the celebration starts a couple of days before when relatives and friends will go to the new house of the couple “to make the marriage bed”. This is like the kitchen party found in some Western countries or similar to adding to the new couples dowry. However, instead of gifts for the house, money (and sometime serious money) inside envelopes is given. Usually the couple’s fathers will set the ball rolling by throwing money on the marriage bed as a gift to the new couple.
Depending on their financial status, the amounts of money the fathers throw can sometimes be very large indeed. This is followed by friends and relatives who will add to this their envelope with money, afterwards a baby will be placed on the bed in order to bring prosperity and fertility to the couple. On the day of the wedding, from early in the afternoon, the two houses of the bride and groom’s families will be very busy. At the bride’s house, the bride’s girlfriends will dress her and make her beautiful for the marriage ceremony, whilst at the house of the groom the main event of the preparations will be in full swing. As his friends are dressing him and getting him ready, the gathering of friends and family of the groom sing the marital song. In the meanwhile visitors, friends and relatives have a great drinking party in the main lounge or on the veranda if it is good weather. The party is usually accompanied by live music played by local musicians. A half hour before the ceremony the gathering will go to the church. Traditionally musicians will follow as well, playing wedding songs, and this can still be seen – especially on the islands of Greece. At the gate of the church, the groom will wait for the bride and when she comes the ceremony will continue with a small liturgy, the exchanging of vows and the dance of Hisais. The Priest and the bride and groom must walk 3 times around the altar whilst the priest sings the Hisaie dance. The marriage ceremony is followed by a huge party usually held at a big restaurant with music and dancing. Traditionally, the best man or best woman of the bride and groom will be the Godfather or Godmother of the first child born to the couple.