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Greek culture has fascinated people from all over the world already since early times. Being the birthplace of many notable philosophers, authors, and historical figures, Greece has always been a place of interest for culture buffs. Especially Athens, the city where democracy was born and today is home to world-class sites attracts foreigners’ attention more than any other city.
Which are the main characteristics of Greek culture though? This article aims to introduce foreigners to the fascinating and mysterious Greek culture.
Religion in Greece
The country’s national religion is the Greek Orthodox Church and 98% of the population are Christian Orthodox. 1.3% of the inhabitants are Muslims while the rest 0.7% are Catholics, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others.
Most Muslim Greek citizens live in Thrace in the northern mainland while most Catholics are found in Syros and the Cycladic Islands.
That means that the Greek Orthodox Church is the most common religion in Greece so most people living in Athens are Christian Orthodox.
Religion plays a great role in life in Greece and religious holidays are always celebrated. Easter is considered the most important religious holiday and there are specific customs for Holy Week and Easter Sunday.
Official Language of Greece
Even though there are local dialectal variations in the different regions across the country, Greece’s official language is Greek.
For many years the language was divided into katharevoussa (which means purified language) and was used by the country’s literate crowd and was taught in schools and dimotiki, which translates to popular (language) and was the one used by people in their everyday life.
However, since 1976 dimotiki is the official language of modern Greece. Unlike in other parts of Greece, Athens’ inhabitants don’t have a special local dialect or accent.
Greek gastronomy scene holds a worldwide reputation for being one of the most delicious and healthy cuisines worldwide.
Based on the Meditteranean diet, Greek cuisine dishes have olive oil, vegetables, fish or meat, and grain as their main ingredients.
As Greeks lived under the Ottoman rule for 400 years many of their traditional dishes are similar or the same as the ones you’ll find in Turkey and other neighboring countries. Some of them are tzatziki, dolmades, and moussaka.
Some dishes are cooked with slight differences in the regions around Greece or the Greek islands.
Food is an important part of Greek culture. On religious holidays and celebrations, it is a tradition to invite family members and friends at home and have dinner all together.
Music in Greece
While for most foreigners Greek music is the theme from the movie ‘Zorba the Greek’ and bouzouki, the country’s music scene is diverse and has a long history.
Music has been a great part of Greeks’ life already since antiquity. The lyre and the double-reed aulos are some of the instruments used at the time.
In the Byzantine era, more instruments were introduced including the laouto and the sandouri while later in the Ottoman Empire folk songs (Dimotika Tragoudia) emerged.
The renowned music style, Rebetiko was introduced to the Greek culture in the early 19th century.
Much has changed in the music scene ever since but until nowadays, local taverns host bands playing renowned rebetika songs.
The Greek Family
Even though the size of Greek families has decreased, for the Greeks the family is still very important. Most of them live in nuclear families or along with grandparents who need to be taken care of.
It is common for families to financially support their members or work all together in a family-owned business.
The Greek society is patriarchal and for many years women weren’t allowed to work. However, this has significantly changed over the last few years and most women contribute to the household income.
Younger generations have started embracing different family types and there is an increase in single-parent families.
Important Traditional Festivities in Greece
Greeks celebrate several traditional festivities. Here are the most important:
For Greeks, Easter is a major religious holiday and they have specific customs for the whole Holy Week. On Maundy Thursday women dye eggs in red color and bake traditional sweet cookies and cakes. On Good Friday, a procession following the tomb of Christ takes place in every neighborhood. On Holy Saturday the whole family goes to church and then has dinner at home and on Easter Sunday Greeks celebrate, eat and drink from early in the afternoon.
Christmas is also an important religious holiday for Greeks. It is a tradition to have turkey for lunch or dinner on Christmas day while on Christmas Eve many locals hold réveillon or hit the city’s nightclubs and bars.
Greeks celebrate the Carnival (Apokries) which lasts for three weeks and ends on Clean Monday with the beginning of Lent. The greatest celebrations take place in the final weekend and locals dress up with costumes and party in the streets.
Ohi Day is celebrated on the 28th of October every year because on that day in 1940 the Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas said ohi (no) to the Italian forces invading the country. On that day parades take place in every neighborhood around the country.
Greek Independence Day
Greek Independence Day commemorates the declaration of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire. It is a national holiday and parades take place all over the country.
Most Greeks have been named after a saint of the Orthodox Church and they celebrate their names on the saint’s day. It is common to have visitors at home and to offer sweets and pastries or even have a big dinner with friends and family. For Greeks ‘name day’ is almost as important as birthday and is celebrated in a very similar way.
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