Greek Culture

Some unique aspects of living in a Greek culture from my perspective.

Greece News Update

galaxidi Greece News Update

I haven’t been cooking near as much as I want to, but my free time is about to double with summer working hours being cut in half, so I plan on posting some new delicious recipes soon.

Off the topic of food, I really want to share with you the turmoil that Greece is in right now. It is easy for us, including myself, to hear about what is happening in Greece without really understanding what it means on a daily basis. Even within the last 6 months before we left Greece, we witnessed many changes such as huge pay cuts, tax increases,  businesses closing, and the overall spirit of the Greek people being threatened with a strong sense of fear and instability on the rise.

Homemade Pesto

When I think of basil, I think of pesto. When I think of pesto, I think of Italy. When I think of Italy, I think of jumping on a plane and flying straight there! Sigh. 

I did get to live in Italy for almost 2 months once, and it was my dream come true. To be really honest, if I hadn’t just met and started to fall in love with my now husband before living there, I might have just never left! But we got to travel around to a few different places together, and I think that is where we both really knew that forever was in sight!

Watermelon and Feta

When I think about America’s Independence Day, I think about fireworks and watermelon. There really is something special about playing in the sun all day with family and friends and then enjoying some cold, juicy watermelon as the sun sets and the first fireworks begin to sparkle!

watermelon feta Watermelon and Feta

Today in Greece…

I wanted to share something about Greek culture this morning, something intriguing and maybe even insightful. Something other than a delicious recipe, but that is also soon to follow.

The truth is that I would only be avoiding the obvious elephant in the room, what is actually happening in Greece. Another 48 hour general strike is underway, but this time both public and private sectors are participating. Parliament will take the final vote on the 2nd round of deeper austerity measures today, including additional tax hikes, salary cuts, suspensions, and reduced pensions. The tax is already at high 23% and salaries have been cut 20%, there is a chance for these number to increase by an additional third or more. The extreme and very unpopular austerity measures are merely an ineffective bandaid to try and convince the EU and IMF of releasing the additional bailout funds to keep the country from defaulting.

The Feast of the Dormition of Mary

In my journey of being a Protestant to joining the (Eastern) Greek Orthodox faith, there has definitely been some ups and downs. The first down was in the beginning of dating my husband and discovering that we not only had many cultural differences but religious ones too. I then lacked the faith that we could find some common ground to stand on together without trying to persuade one another to the other side, God proved me wrong! At that point though, there was already an abundance of love pulling us together, so from there we began the challenging road of figuring out how we could be together and what it would look like in an everyday life setting. The first high came when I began to look into the history of Christianity and Orthodoxy. I was enthralled to discover so much about not only the roots of the Christian faith itself but also the foundations of the Orthodox faith. I became captivated about where, when, and how Christianity started and even carried on today in so many of the same ways!

Orthodox Iconography, Part 1

I did not write the below article, but it really expresses what I have learned in my walk through Orthodoxy as well. I am excited to share this with you and I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Here is the LINK to the original article written by Cindy Elgy, I have simply copied and pasted it below for ease to the viewer. 

asset.php Orthodox Iconography, Part 1

“There are approximately five million Eastern Orthodox Christians in America (Nabil, 2000). A minority in a nation dominated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox culture has maintained strong familial and cultural identities. Understanding something about them, being able to lay aside preconceptions and ethnocentricity to view life from the Orthodox Christian’s perspective will allow the onlooker an opportunity to increase in understanding not only of the Eastern Orthodox Christian but of human nature. It is this author’s intent to introduce the reader to an insider’s perspective of iconography in the life of an Orthodox Christian, in the hope that understanding will increase.
A legend passed down for nearly 2000 years describes the first icon. At the time when Christ was traveling to Jerusalem where He would experience the trial and crucifixion, King Abgar of Edessa sent for Jesus. Christ could not go to the King, so instead He sent a linen cloth on which He had dried His face. The story continues that the cloth carried to the King had an impression of Christ’s face on it. The King’s illness was healed when the cloth was taken to him. This first icon, “not made by human hands”, began a tradition of portraying Christ and the saints in pictorial fashion. (Benz, 1963). The entire town of Edessa treasured this first icon, that is the linen cloth with Christ’s face imprinted on it. It was widely acknowledged throughout out the East and still written about in the eighth century (Ouspensky, 1978).
So what is an icon? Webster defines an icon as an image (Webster, 1966). In the Orthodox Church an icon is a sacred image, a window into heaven. An image of another reality, of a person, time and place that is more real than here and now. More than art, icons have an important spiritual role. Michel Quenot says it well in his book, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom, an icon is “theology in imagery, the icon expresses through color what the Gospel proclaims in words”.
For this reason the rules regarding the creation of an icon are rigorous. The iconographer must prepare himself for the task of painting an icon by following a strict discipline of fasting and prayer. He must quiet his spirit and submit himself to God. The icon he creates will not be signed. He will not expect accolades or applause when the icon is completed. The icon will be created to inspire and lead others into worship. Painting the icon is not a use of imagination. Instead, the icon will be painted using the prescribed regimen and style that has been passed down through the centuries. Everything from the facial expressions to the colors used is predetermined. The following is a prayer recited by an iconographer prior to starting to work:
O Divine Master of all that exists, enlighten and direct the soul, the heart and the mind of your servant: guide my hands so that I might portray worthily and perfectly Your Image, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the Saints, for the glory, the joy, and the beautification of Your Holy Church. ( Quenot, p.13)
The primary purpose of the icon is to aid in worship. Its design follows that purpose. Through lines and color the iconographer conveys the awesomeness of the invisible, divine reality (Evdokimov, 1990). The creation of an icon is defined by tradition. That is a 21 st century iconographer would not decide to change the shape of Christ’s face. It is understood that a person who saw them in the flesh painted the first icon of an individual. St. Luke is accredited with painting the first icons of Christ and Mary the Blessed Virgin. Each subsequent iconographer will use the original icon as a guide. There is room for a small amount of stylistic change but tradition limits the options for that change ( Forest, 1997).
motherofgod glykophiloussa Orthodox Iconography, Part 1
Icons are not created to force an emotional response. When portraying historical scenes the faces don’t show emotions but instead portray virtues such as purity, patience in suffering, forgiveness, compassion and love. An example of this would be the portrayal of Christ on the cross. Neither is the icon a sentimental picture. Christ is always shown as God. Even the icons of Christ seated on His mother’s lap show Him with an adult face, revealing that even though Christ lived as a child among us He was also God ( Forest,1997).
Icons depict silence. There are no actions displayed, no open mouths. The icon invites the Christian to enter into contemplation,prayer, and silence (Ware,1979). Space is not defined as three-dimensional and time is insignificant. The story told by the icon precludes time and space. An example would be the icon of the Nativity, which shows the cave where Christ was born in the background with those who came to adore in small vignettes. Lighting proceeds from the character portrayed in the icon. There are never shadows in icons. This shows us that the saint portrayed is “glorified” having completed the race and entered into heaven (Quenot,1991).
Symbolism is used in icons and details are used minimally. For example, when showing John the Baptist baptizing in the river the grown man he baptizes is shown as an infant because the baptism is a rebirth. Colors are also symbolic. Blue reveals heaven and mystery. Green is youth, fertility and the earth’s vegetation. Red, the color of blood, suggests life, vitality and beauty. White is purity, the divine world and innocence. Gold indicates sanctity, splendor, and the glory of God and life in the heavenly kingdom. Purple reveals wealth, power and authority.
First and foremost, icons are a constant reminder of the incarnation of Christ, that is to say, they remind us that God “sent His only begotten Son”(Bible, John 3:16) to rescue us from our sin and death. We cannot see God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, but, because Christ chose to take on human flesh, we can see Him. His face can be portrayed on wood with paint. We can also paint His Mother and other saints who have finished the race and gone on to heaven. The Orthodox believe that surrounding themselves with icons help them to acknowledge the constant presence of Christ and the saints in their lives.
According to Father Nabil, priest of St. George Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, IN, the icon is a representation of the person portrayed upon it. The term used to describe this link is typology. Typology means that an event or item is somehow related to another event or person. An example of this would be the icon buttons on the computer tool bar. When a person uses the tool bar and clicks on the “print” button the user knows that the print button represents something else. That is, the print button will not cause itself to be duplicated on paper with ink but instead the user knows that the print button at that moment is a typology for the item on the screen. By interacting with the “print” icon the user expects the item the button represents to be printed. When an Orthodox Christian gives honor to an icon by kneeling or bowing before it or by kissing the icon the Christian is not paying respect to wood and paint. Instead he acknowledges that the icon represents much more and that the link between the icon and the person in the heaven is real. He believes that in some mystical fashion the veneration given to the icon will be received by the person it portrays.
StJosephIcon Orthodox Iconography, Part 1
As a recent convert to the Orthodox Christian faith this author has some experience on which to base an analysis of the use of icons. As a convert ten years ago icons were one of the additions to worship unfamiliar to me. I came from a protestant background and the worship I had been involved in up until this point involved sitting in a pew and repeating prayers, creeds and hymns when appropriate. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Orthodox utilize all of their senses and beings in their worship. Incense floats through the air representing the prayers ascending into heaven. A bell is rung during the call to worship and at other key times in the worship. Altar boys, deacons and the priest serve in the altar area, chanting prayers and hymns, bowing, performing prostration, acknowledging the heavenly hosts of saints and angels whose worship we are entering into. Parishioners do not sit primly in the pews but may walk throughout the church lighting candles, venerating icons. The hands of parishioners are not quiet and closed but may be raised heavenward to show the lifting of the worshiper’s heart toward God or they may be making the sign of the cross, reminding the one who makes it that Christ loved us enough to die for us. Later communion will be available so that one can even utilize the sense of taste during worship. In those first weeks the activity of worship seemed almost distracting to me but as I have entered into the worship it has became natural. The Orthodox believes worship is ongoing in the heavenly kingdom. They believe heaven is a place where worship doesn’t cease, that those who have gone before and have been faithful are worshiping the Holy Trinity continuously. When earthly Christians join together to worship we join the heavenly throng and begin participating in that worship. For that reason the walls and ceilings of the church are decorated with icons of Christ, Mary the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels. When parishioners stand in the pew during worship they only need to look around to see the saints surrounding them. In this way the icon is a reminder of a larger reality. It reminds us that we have stepped out of one world and into another. It reminds us that though we struggle on a daily basis to remain faithful to our beliefs and our God there are many who have finished this life successfully and now dwell in a place were there is no more sorrow. We are encouraged to persevere, to set our eyes on the finish line, to continue to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Living as we do in a society that demands that our lives be lived at a fast pace and with very little quiet time the icon beckons to us to slow down. The stillness of the icon draws us into the quiet so that we can lay aside the cares of this world and meditate on the splendor of the next. The benefit of the icons is not so much in analyzing the style of painting, the iconographers name or even in knowing the individual representations in the icon. The benefit is in meditation, in quietness and in guiding the heart to prayer.
There are other components of the Eastern Orthodox culture that contribute to the use of the icon. It has been this author’s personal observation that the Orthodox culture values family. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins and so on worship together, live together and often even work together. A large number of Orthodox are immigrants who have been able to assimilate into the American culture due to a strong work ethic and a respect for the freedoms afforded a democratic society. Many have lived under Communist governments, some have suffered under the authority of anarchists. Strong family ties, even family businesses have helped to sustain these immigrants. This respect for unity and extended family goes beyond the earthly family and makes the recognition of the saints more acceptable. For example, if Aunt Sally prayed for us while she was on earth and we know that she has eternal life now, why would we expect her to stop praying for us now?
Also, I have found that the Orthodox are a very expressive people. If I meet an Orthodox friend at the grocery store or at church I have learned to expect that friend to drop whatever he is doing and come toward me with both arms reaching out. First he will embrace me, then give me a kiss on each check. This is called the kiss of peace. Often a greeting such as “Christ is Risen!” or “Thanks be to God” will accompany the kiss. It should be noted that this kiss of peace is shared among men and women equally. The greeting can be between two men, two women or a man and a woman. I have often wanted to follow a single person throughout a Sunday worship to tally the number of such greetings a person offers on such a day. If such a greeting is given to people who are simply acquaintances then the kissing of the icon is in keeping with the cultural practices.
In conclusion, viewing the use of icons from within the Orthodox culture has given the author the opportunity to develop an appreciation for icons. I have found that hanging an icon in my home reminds me that God is present in my home. When I pass the icon I remember that I am to be praying continuously. When life is just speeding by too quickly I know where to go to find some quiet and to pray for the peace that surpasses understanding. It is no longer surprising to me that the God who created humans would realize that sometimes in our crowded lives it is beneficial to have a “window on the kingdom” (Quenot, 1991).”

In Part II, I will share more on my thoughts but until then I would love to hear yours! 

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Easter continued…

Unlike, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” the movie, my husband’s family is quite small and intimate. A brother and sister were missing, but even when the whole family is all together it is a very tame function; I cannot however say the same for my side of the family. My family in Texas must have some a lot of Greek spirit in them, because THEY are MY big fat Greek family. All of my aunts and cousins come over and are shouting all at the same time to be heard, everyone is in everyone else’s private business, and it is not a family get together if someone doesn’t cry or leave abruptly. You probably think I am exaggerating, I am not icon smile Easter continued... But enough about my family holidays, I don’t want to scare my Greek husband too much, he has only been around his in-laws for a while and still adores them all! What’s not to love about full blown honesty and letting someone know when they have gained a few pounds, right?Easter in Greece is very different for me. Besides the wonderful church celebrations and emphasis on Christ, there is also a huge stress on family and spending time celebrating all together, I just love that! We have eaten so much since Saturday night that I think it might be time for another brief fast. Here are our lunch tables: 1) Prepared my my wonderful mother-in-law, anything she makes turns into gold, seriously, she makes the most authentic and homemade Greek food I could ever imagine; 2) prepared by our only living yiayia (grandmother), she too has a great talent in the kitchen. I try to get them to teach me how to cook, but they insist that I will learn better then them, I only hope to become as great of a cook as either one of these wonderful ladies. 

Just some Greek coffee and fresh juice on a typical visit to yiayia’s house.
Easter2+30 Easter continued...

Our Easter lunch at home in my husband’s parent’s house. Stuffed beefteki, lamb meat skewers, traditional Easter soups, salad, lots of wonderful cheeses and sauces, wine, and of course red eggs to hit together!

Good Friday to Easter Sunday

On Holy Friday evening, the theme is Christ’s descent into Hades during which the Gospel of repentance and reconciliation with God is shared for all. The service begins by singing lamentations as we stand before the tomb of Christ remembering His unjust punishment and the shedding of His innocent blood. But the service will end with a joy and hope from the reading of Prophet Ezekiel in which he describes his vision of the resurrection yet to come. In the midst of despair, we are told there is hope, for not even death can separate us from the unfailing love and power of God. Death will be conquered and faithfulness rewarded.

The Holy Week

Holy week serves as the ultimate preparation to face and worship the risen Lord!!! The joy of Easter cannot be complete without reliving the events that lead up to it. During Holy Week all the passions and pathos of the last week of Christ’s life are retold and reenacted. From Palm Sunday to Good Friday, the services recount everything Jesus endured to fulfill the will of the Father. On Good Friday, God’s will is completed on the cross and then with the Resurrection. By reliving Christ’s experiences of Holy Week, the faithful can be resurrected and come closer to becoming like God (theosis).

For me, these next two weeks are really wonderful to actually get to experience in Greece. This first week, called Big Week, is really somber and quiet throughout the villages, but beginning Saturday after midnight the celebrations and parties begin and last for another whole week!

Happy Independence Day, Greece!

Chronia Polla . . .  Happy Independence Day to all of my fellow Greeks! 
chapel++321 Happy Independence Day, Greece!
A little history for those who are interested! 

Greek culture and language, Orthodox Christianity, Roman political institutions, and a dominant Greek population held the eastern empire strong for the previous thousand years beofre May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and all of Greece. For 368 years of Ottoman occupation, the Hellenic (Greek) people were second-class citizens at best, constantly subjected to heavy tax burdens, brutal slavery, and many many oppressions.
chapel++320 Happy Independence Day, Greece!

On March 25, 1821,Bishop Germanos of Patras courageously raised the Greek flag at the monastery of Agia Lavras in the Peloponnese, and declared “Eleftheria i Thanatos” (Freedom or Death). This was the first day of the struggle for the next 9 years, until 1830. March 25th was already a significant date: it is also the feast of the Annunciation of angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, where she freely chose to bear Christ, who would ultimately free humanity of their sins. 

chapel++322 Happy Independence Day, Greece!
During the first year of the war, the Greeks captured back Monemvassia, Navarino (Pylos), Nafplion, Tripolitsa, Messolongi, Athens, and Thebes. Mavromichaelis, governor of Mani, sieged strategic Turkish garrisons and homes. But even worse, Turks retaliated in other areas of Greece, especially on the island of Chios (directly below Lesvos), where 25,000 civilians were massacred just to try and prove a point

chapel++323 Happy Independence Day, Greece! Happy Independence Day, Greece!

Greece continued to endure many more struggles until 1947, when her current borders were finally achieved. In my opinion, the 400 years of slavery has greatly effected even the modern Greeks. I think the occupation and almost utter devastation of this country is a huge reason they are somewhat still living decades behind western Europe and the US, among some other holdbacks as well

chapel++325 Happy Independence Day, Greece!
I am proud to help celebrate Greek freedom, and I couldn’t imagine my life without a certain amazingly handsome and charming Greek of my own! As a matter of fact, everyone should get their own Greek to love icon smile Happy Independence Day, Greece!
PS. The adorable pictures are from today’s parade, the children all dress in the traditional outfits and proudly walk through their village waving the Greek flag!!!

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My kids at school

I have been teaching English at a private English school here since October, thank the Lord, and I have had many moments of fun, laughter, frustration, headache, and complete discombobulation too. No matter the highs or lows of the job, I am really thankful to be working every single day. As a wonderful result of this job, we will be able to visit the States this summer, and it is because of this job that my sanity is still mostly in tact… let’s just say that I was not made to be a housewife.  

I adore almost all of my students, and it seems every class has its angels and devils, for a lack of better comparison. Overall, the kids exhaust me and bring joy to my heart, likely, it is the same for all teachers! And like every other teacher, I have more than a handful of stories to share. Slightly different though, is the fact that I am missing the ability to effectively communicate. I juggle 3 cultures trying to explain what the heck I am talking about; I am an American (1) living in Greece (2) teaching British (3) English. Let’s just say, I have been just as clueless as the students at times. Seriously though, these words have completely different meanings: jam, dinky, and fag…just to name a few. 

Imagine that if you say, I will “knock you up” in England, it is harmless, simply meaning to wake them up; If you tell an American I will ”knock you up,” your chances of getting slapped just increased 862%.

Common Sayings in Greece (in Greek)

I am teaching myself trying to learn Greek on my own, and it is going at a very slow pace. I have made progress since being here, and I would say that I can understand and speak at a low level in everyday conversation. My kids (who I am teaching English) usually giggle a bit when I try to translate the directions for a game into Greek so they can understand. Most of the kids are very helpful in correcting me, but there are a few smart-allecs that mock me a bit. Overall, even with being mocked, I think teaching has helped me learn a few new words each day or so and I continue to be amazed at the Greek expressions or sayings that just don’t make sense in English. We call it Greek-lish, speaking English but with the Greek way of thinking.
Greeks talking Common Sayings in Greece (in Greek)

Some common greetings and responses: 

Fishing and Eating Out

Fishing is one of the main occupations here on the island, and sardines from here are famed all over the world. I personally do not eat sardines or really small fish for that matter, I prefer a much larger white fish with a subtle flavor. Greeks on the other hand savor eating small fish and drinking ouzo. In my next post, I will share with you about ouzo, but for now I let’s talk fish and eating out. 
DSC 0079 Fishing and Eating Out
Every seaside village has a harbor and they are always full of parked fishing boats. In the mornings, you can see the fishermen, who have just returned from sea, cleaning their nets for the next day’s outing. Most of them have a cigarette hanging out of their mouth and hands tougher than leather, not to mention their fish cologne. 
DSC 0068 Fishing and Eating Out
Of course, where ever you smell fish, there are cats and where ever you find cats, there are dogs. Within walking distance of all harbors you will definitely find a ψαροταβερνα, psarotaverna, a fish tavern, and probably more cats. They make some of the freshest and most delicious fish I have ever tasted, but naturally for a good chunk of change. Still, anyone that comes to Greece and likes fish must splurge and eat at a fish tavern at least once, maybe twice. It is always accompanied by ouzo and other μεζέδες, mezedes, appetizers of cheese, veggies, ect. It is very common when going out for lunch or dinner in Greece that you eat family style, sharing everything. There is even a basic meal that is always ordered with slight variances. 
double fishing Fishing and Eating Out
For a typical meal among friends or family you would find the following options.  
Wine, usually a house white or red 
Ouzo, a must if eating fish 
Beer, choice of Amstel, Heineken, or Mythos (Greek beer)

A basket of fresh bread

Salad. Either traditional Geek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, feta, and olives or a warm salad of village grass served with lemon and oil (V’s favorite) 

Fried Cheeses. There are too many wonderful varieties to mention them all, but most common are either a hard, salty cheese that is grilled or a lightly fried cheese log filled with ham and white, soft cheese


The Greek culture has many superstitions, and although the majority claim to not actually believe them, there is still a lot of evidence around that some are believers. Some of the more common stories are as follows:

blueye Superstitions
The Evil Eye
Some Greeks, especially in villages, believe that someone can catch the evil eye, or “matiasma”, from someone else’s jealousy, compliment, or envy. A person who has caught the evil eye usually feels bad physically and psychologically. To avoid the matiasma, those who 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 the evil eye but it is also believed that people with blue eyes are givers of the matiasma.Garlic is another way to ward off the evil eye, and one can sometimes see it hanging in a corner of some houses. Garlic, as well as onion, is also considered of having a great healing power by many Greeks. If someone is feeling ill, they will advice him to eat garlic.

Greeks never hand knives to someone who asks for it for they consider that if they do that they will have a fight with the person. Therefore they set it down on the table and let the other person take it.

Some Greeks believe that spitting chases the devil and other misfortune away. That is why when someone talks about bad news (deaths, accidents, etc…) the others slightly spit three times saying “ftou, ftou, ftou”. 

It is still very common to spit on the devil during a baptism service! Although, it is never actual spit, it is more of a gesture. 

Tuesday the 13th
Unlike the western belief, in Greece the unlucky day is Tuesday the 13th.

“Piase Kokkino”
When two people say the same thing together they immediately say “piase kokkino” (meaning literally, ‘grab red’) and both have to touch any red item they can find around him. This happens because Greeks believe that saying the same thing is an omen and that the two persons will get into a fight or an argument if they don’t touch a red thing. Nowadays, it is merely done for a game. 

Garlic+Braid+09 Superstitions

These are only a few of the many but probably the most commonly believed. Sometimes I am surprised at what people believe, other times, I am just really embarrassed for them! Overall, I think it is interesting what superstitions have arisen from various cultures. 

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Chios Island

Chios is the 5th largest Greek island and is located in the northeast of the Aegean Sea, a mere 4 miles from the coast of Asia Minor (Turkey). This island is renowned for their unique mastic gum and beautiful Medieval villages.

Hi! My name is Jacquline. Welcome to my blog. I hope you will find some delicious Greek food recipes and enjoy the read along the way! Kali Orexi :)


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