GREEK/AUSTRALIAN CULTURE AND TRADITION

Beliefs

Greeks believe in Christian Orthodoxy and many Greek customs and practices have developed from religious celebrations and rituals. The Greek view on life in general, as well as a person’s life experiences, is grounded in a belief in fate and destiny expressed as ‘God’s will’. There are terms and practices which tie this sense of fate with faith in the Christian God. Other practices link it to an evil curse or superstition derived from pagan or folk beliefs.

Tihi (Tyche) is a frequently used word meaning ‘luck’ or ‘fate’. It stems from the ancient Greek name of the deity of luck or fortune, Tyche. Greeks often use this word to explain the inexplicable or incomprehensible. It is especially used about marriage, wealth and health. If a person has either a successful marriage or a marriage breakdown, this would be attributed to their good tihi or bad tihi respectively. A person who is seriously ill or who has an incurable disease is said to be experiencing bad tihi.

Mira (Moira) literally means ‘portion’ and refers to one’s destiny in life. Mira is often described as having been ‘written’ at birth for each person, implying that one cannot escape his/her destiny. This belief in the power of destiny, originating at birth, stems from the ancient Greek belief in the female figures (the three Fates or Moirae) who controlled the thread of life of all mortals and immortals.

In modern Greek culture tihi and mira are sometimes used interchangeably. Mira mainly refers to the individual’s life journey, whereas tihi describes a particular event or incident in a person’s life contributing to their destiny (mira).

Mati or ‘the evil eye’ is the belief, dating back to antiquity, that individual misfortune is caused by the envy of another. Greeks refer to envious people as having the ability to cast the evil eye on a person with good fortune (wealth, beauty, good health, or beautiful and successful children) causing them ill-health or some other misfortune. The person who casts the evil eye may do so unintentionally, for example, by staring, gazing, or looking enviously at a person, their possessions, or their children.

The curse of the evil eye is broken though a strict process. The healer recites a secret prayer received from an older relative of the opposite sex, performs the sign of the cross and spits in the air three times. The transmission of the secret prayer/s from one person to another must follow this sequence. According to superstition if the secret prayer/s is indiscriminately passed on then the healer loses his/her ability to cast off the evil eye. For the many Greeks who believe in the power of the evil eye, there are ways to determine whether in fact a person has been affected. When the healer and the affected person yawn as the healing process takes place, and when the healer places drops of olive oil in a glass of water and the olive oil sinks or dissolves in the water, naturally, this wouldn’t occur if there was no evil eye involved.

Spitting lightly three times on the admired or complimented person or object is the most common way for Greeks to prevent casting the curse of the evil eye. This is a very common and encouraged practice. Other ways to ward off the evil eye include wearing a blue bead with an eye painted on it (either on a pin, bracelet, or necklace) and hanging garlic close to the entrance of one’s home.

Many Greek Australians, both elderly immigrants and those born in Australia, believe in the power of the evil eye and continue practices that ward it off . Younger Greek Australians wear jewellery with blue eye beads. At the baptism of their baby children parents may pin a blue eye bead on the child’s clothing to prevent a curse being cast unintentionally by those admiring the young child.

Katara is the Greek word for ‘curse’. Unlike the evil eye katara refers to a deliberate curse resulting in grave misfortune for another person. This word is used to describe a cursed individual, family, or community.

Superstitions

In Greece there are some common superstitions but other superstitions vary between villages. Common superstitious beliefs held by some Greek immigrants include:

• Handing a knife to someone could result in a dispute with that person. Instead the knife is laid down enabling the other person to pick it up.

• Crows are considered to be omens of bad news, in particular, they are an omen for news of death.

• Tuesday the 13th day of the month is considered a day of bad luck and is equivalent to Friday the 13th in Western cultures.

• Shoes turned with the soles facing up are considered a sign of very bad luck. They are promptly turned back, accompanied by some spitting!

• Touching a red-coloured item occurs when two people say the same thing at the same time. This prevents an argument occurring between them.

• Using the same door when entering and leaving someone else’s home avoids bad luck. If you enter through the front door and leave through the back door you could invite bad luck on the inhabitants of the home – especially on a pending marriage proposal.

• Placing money in something new brings good fortune. Throwing coins into someone’s new car will bring safety. Placing money in a newborn’s crib will bring the child good fortune.

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Values

Many Greek values are based on the individual in relation to the family, the local community and the wider society. Western notions of privacy, individuality, personal concience and independent decision-making differ from the traditional Greek sense of the individual. The expectations of immediate and extended family as well as members of a person’s broader community (village, neighbourhood and church congregation) determine the person’s behaviour and responsibilities. Greek culture emphasizes the communal and public rather than the private sphere. For many Greek immigrants, especially the elderly, their identity is closely tied to their behaviour within the communal and public spheres. The values which stem from this understanding of the individual revolve around the ways in which a person behaves and presents to others.

Filotimo means the love of honour. It refers to the respect individuals have for themselves and for others. A person who has filotimo is hospitable, generous, considerate and has a sense of right and wrong.

Filoxenia literally translates as the love of foreigners or strangers. This refers to hospitality. Since ancient times this value has been highly regarded in Greek society. In Greece’s villages and smaller communities travelers were welcomed into people’s homes where they would share a meal and be put up for the night. Nowadays it commonly refers to the hospitality offered to acquaintances, friends or relatives who are guests in one’s home.

Axioprepia refers to a person’s dignity. Greeks use this term frequently. They are referring to an individual’s acquired or earned honour or respect. A person is axioprepis if he/she behaves in a way regarded by the broader community as worthy of respect.

Ypohreosi is one’s sense of obligation or duty to another person for a special favour or service received. It also expresses the requirement or commitment to take some course of action, often as defined by custom or communal expectation.

Shame and honour are important characteristics of the Greek world view. Behaviour and actions can reflect an individual’s filotimo in the eyes of his/her family and community. If a person behaves in a certain manner shame or honour is cast on the entire family. Public or community knowledge of an individual’s actions likewise will mean shame or honour for both the individual and his/her family. Actions which do not become public knowledge are not described as honourable or shameful. Instead they are considered to be a matter of moral conscience. This is closer to the Western cultural framework and the Christian sense of guilt and innocence.

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Family and Gender Roles

Family and religion are central to Greek values and behaviour and mutually reinforce each other’s importance. The Orthodox Church advocates the traditional patriarchal family and this is specified in the marriage ceremony. In this ceremony the wife accepts the husband as head of the family.

Traditional Roles

In the traditional family structure, the husband/father is the main authority figure and source of discipline. The wife/mother is the focus of the home. The term nikokira refers to female family members, especially to the wife and mother who, traditionally, takes responsibility for the housework and child-rearing. The husband and father, or nikokiris, is expected to financially provide for the family and to contribute to its progress.

Second Generation Greek Australians

For many second generation Greek Australians gender roles are less sharply drawn, especially in ‘mixed’ marriages. However, women have continued to be the primary care givers in the home for their elderly relatives and in-laws.

Family Honour

It is important for you to be aware of familiar roles and how authority is distributed. It is also important to know that family honour is very important to older Greek Australians. All family members are expected to contribute to it and have an obligation to sustain it.

Extended Family

While the immediate family is important, so too is the extended family. Individuals have strong ties to grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, as well as to others who are connected to the family, such as godparents (referred to as koumpari). Family obligations include participation in family celebrations and religious occasions, as well as caring for the sick and elderly.

Traditionally, ageing parents continued to live in the family home cared for by family members. The strong sense of duty to parents is even stronger in the children of first generation immigrants, recognising as they do the tremendous sacrifices made by their parents as migrants in a new country.

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Food and Cooking

Greece has a culinary tradition dating back several millennia. Foods like trahanas (a grain-based dairy soup), skordalia (a potato-based appetiser) and pasteli (a sesame seed and honey sweet) all date back to ancient Greece. Over the centuries Greek cuisine has adopted and modified numerous culinary influences, especially from the Middle East, Turkey and Italy. The names of some of Greece’s most popular dishes reveal their origin: moussakas (Arabic); keftethes (Persian); pastitsio and makaronia me kima (Italian); baklavas, yuvarlakia (Turkish).

Loukoumades

Greek Cooking Today

Greek cooking today is typically Mediterranean. The ingredients most often used are olive oil, grains and bread, wine, fish, various meats (including poultry and rabbit), yoghurts and cheese, and fresh vegetables. Meat is a large part of Greek cuisine, with a wide variety of meat-based dishes eaten as main meals and snacks. As Greece is surrounded by the Aegean and Ionian Seas fish and seafood are also central to the Greek diet. Olive, lemon, basil, garlic, oregano and thyme are commonly used in Greek dishes, especially in fresh salads, as is the famous feta cheese.

Today Greeks in Australia and in Greece eat foods from around the world, their cooking influenced by many food traditions. However, for Greek elders eating traditionally prepared Greek food remains an important part of their lives. The vibrancy of traditional Greek food is important to their sense of self and cultural identity.

Sharing a Meal

Sharing food with others is important in Greek culture, and cooking and eating are important social occasions. The quality of the food is an important topic of conversation and swapping recipes is common when people share a meal. If you are invited to a Greek home for a meal you should take something to share, for example, a bottle of wine, sweets, or an appetiser. When you leave you may well be offered food to take with you and it is polite to accept such a gift.

Here is a list of the most common Greek foods. To make these dishes, perhaps with your client, see Greek Recipes. Bear in mind that you could also use this information for planning other activities, such as an outing to a Greek restaurant, or visiting Greek delicatessens to shop for the ingredients.

Appetisers

Meze (singular) or mezethes (plural) is a collective term for appetisers, which are usually served with wine or ouzo and freshly baked bread or pita bread. They include:

  • Deep-fried vegetables: zucchini, eggplant, peppers and mushrooms
  • Dolmades: vine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables, sometimes including meat
  • Greek Salad or horiatiki: tomato, cucumber, onions, olives, feta cheese and olive oil
  • Horta: boiled wild or cultivated greens, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and eaten as a light meal (especially during Lent)
  • Marides tiganites: deep-fried whitebait, usually served with lemon wedges
  • Saganaki: a popular fried cheese
  • Spanakopita: baked filo pastry stuffed with spinach and cheese
  • Tyropita: baked filo pastry stuffed with cheese (usually feta)
  • Skordalia: thick garlic and potato puree usually accompanying deep-fried fish
  • Tzatziki: yoghurt, cucumber and garlic dip
  • Tarmosalata: dip made of fish roe mixed with boiled potatoes or moistened breadcrumbs
  • Loukaniko: fried home-made spicy sausage
  • Fava: yellow split-pea puree or other bean purees, sometimes made of fava beans

Soups

  • Trahana: most ancient Greek soup, a wheat-based dairy soup similar to porridge
  • Fakes: commonly cooked lentil soup
  • Fasolada: very traditional Greek soup made of beans, tomatoes, carrot, celery, onions, garlic and olive oil
  • Revithia: chickpea soup
  • Soupa avgolemono: refers to any chicken, meat, vegetable or fish broth thickened with eggs, lemon juice and rice
  • Magiritsa: traditional Greek Easter soup made with lamb offal thickened with eggs and lemon juice
  • Patsas: tripe soup often eaten after a late night
  • Psarosoupa: Fish soup which can be prepared with a variety of fish types and carrots, parsley, celery, potatoes, onion and olive oil

Meat and Seafood

  • Baked lamb (arni sto fourno): common Greek dish often baked with potatoes and a variety of different herbs and vegetables
  • Giouvetsi: slowly baked lamb with rice-shaped pasta (kritharaki)
  • Paidakia: grilled with lemon, oregano, salt and pepper.
  • Souvlaki: most well-known Greek meat dish, lamb, chicken or pork marinated in oil, salt, pepper and oregano then grilled on a skewer
  • Gyros: meat cooked or roasted on a spit and is usually served with tzatziki, salad and pita bread
  • Keftedes: fried or baked meatballs
  • Pilaf: chicken and other meat
  • Moussaka: eggplant, meat and bechamel baked in a casserole dish
  • Pastitiso: pasta, meat and bechamel baked in a casserole dish
  • Soutzoukakia: large meatballs with cinnamon and herbs baked in a tomato sauce
  • Spetsofai: sausages, peppers, onions and wine
  • Stifado: beef or rabbit onion stew cooked with red wine, cloves and cinnamon
  • Octopus: grilled and dressed with vinegar, oil and oregano

Vegetarian Dishes

  • Lahanodolmades: cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and herbs, spiced and topped with egg and lemon sauce
  • Spanakorizo: boiled spinach and rice
  • Bamies: cooked okra with a tomato sauce
  • Fasolakia: fresh green beans stewed with tomato sauce, potato and/or zucchini
  • Gigantes: lima beans baked with tomato sauce and different herbs

Desserts and Sweets

  • Baklava: famous baked dessert, layers of filo pastry with crushed nuts, sugar, syrup and cloves
  • Galaktoboureko: baked sweet custard, filo pastry and syrup
  • Kourabiethes: shortbread almond biscuits dusted with icing sugar, a year round but traditionally Christmas sweet
  • Melomakaron: cinnamon and clove biscuits soaked in honey syrup and topped with crushed walnuts, traditionally baked at Christmas but enjoyed throughout the year
  • Loukoumades: Greek doughnuts, small fried balls of dough soaked in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Rozogalo: rice pudding sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Koulourakia: traditional Greek Easter biscuits
  • Tsoureki: traditional sweet Greek Easter bread
  • Karidopita: walnut cake with a honey syrup
  • Loukoumi: Greek version of Turkish delight
  • Glyko tou koutaliou: literally means to ‘spoon sweets’ referring to stewed sweets soaked in syrup which can only be eaten with a spoon
  • Vasilopita: traditional cake for New Year’s celebrations

Drinks

Wine and beer are the most common drinks in Greece, with many Greek wines recently coming up to international standards and beers produced in Greece have recently gained in popularity. There are also some distinctly Greek alcoholic drinks which are widely known and enjoyed by Greeks and non-Greeks alike.

  • Ouzo: distinctively Greek alcoholic clear drink flavoured with aniseed. Turns milky white when water or ice is added. The finest quality ouzo comes from the island of Mytilini (Lesvos)
  • Tsipouro (also referred to as tsikoudia or raki in Crete): home-brewed clear drink, very high alcohol content
  • Retsina: wine with pine tar (resin). It should not be aged
  • Mavrodafni: red wine with a sweet liquor flavour, high alcohol content
  • Metaxa: famous Greek brand of sweet brandy with a 40 per cent alcohol content

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National Days

Greek Independence Day, on 25 March, and Ohi Day, on 28 October (which commemorates Greece’s victory against the Axis forces in WWII), are the two most important national days.

In Greece they are public holidays. In Melbourne the Greek community celebrates Greek Independence Day with a parade on the Sunday nearest 25 March. Community organisations and Greek school students march down St Kilda Road to the Shrine of Remembrance, where dignitaries deliver speeches commemorating the achievement of nationhood following Ottoman rule. Recent Greek History will give you an understanding of the significance of these occasions.

On the same weekend over two days the Glendi festival is held in the Melbourne’s Greek precinct in Lonsdale Street. Also on 25 March Greeks across the world celebrate the Annunciation or Evangelsimos, which is a major feast day in the Orthodox Church.

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Recent Greek History

Modern Greek identity was shaped significantly by WWI and its aftermath. Events in this period were to affect every aspect of Greek daily life, impacting heavily on culture, education and living conditions. It is not too much to say that WWI had ramifications throughout the century, including the mass migrations that would occur to and from Greece at different times in the 20th century. WWII was similarly pivotal, creating economic and political conditions that would lead directly to migration to Australia and other countries in the 1950s and ’60s.

1922 – 1935

In 1922 Turkish nationalists overthrow the Ottoman government and organise a military assault on Greek troops based in Asia Minor. The Greeks are defeated. More than 150,000 Greeks of the Pontus region, and more than 400,000 Greeks from Asia Minor, die in the massacres and upheavals of the time.

By 1923, with the involvement of the European powers, agreement is reached for a population exchange. One and a half million Greek refugees from Turkey arrive in Greece. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims leave Greece for Turkey. Of the half million Pontian Greek refugees who do not go to Greece, 200,000 go to Russia. The remaining number are dispersed across the world. The populations of Athens and Thessaloniki double with the arrival of such large numbers of Greek refugees.

Working-class and upper middle-class Greeks who had lived comfortably in Smyrna and other towns and cities in Turkey now fall to the bottom of the social hierarchy in their new home. However, the cuisine and music of the east they bring with them enrich Greek kitchens and music.

1936 – 1941

Greece is a republic from 1924 to 1936. With some popular support, the Greek monarchy is re-established in 1936 after many tumultuous events. The new prime minister, Ioannis Metaxas, has a grand vision for a third great Greek civilisation. He introduces economic, educational and industrial reforms, including the 8-hour working day, debt-relief for farmers, the teaching of demotic (folk) Greek in schools, and the social security system. He makes significant diplomatic progress with neighbouring countries, bringing stability to the economy.

However, his mission of creating a Hellenic culture of ‘pure’ Christian Orthodox Greeks leads to political parties being banned, communists arrested, strikes prohibited and the introduction of censorship.

Metaxas is remembered for his defence of Greece at the commencement of WWII with the staunch reply of Ohi! (No!) to Mussolini’s demands. When Italy invades Greece from the Albanian border in October 1940, the Greek army’s counter-offensive forces the Italians to retreat, the Allied forces’ first victory in WWII.

WWII and the Civil War

Metaxas dies in January 1941. In April the Germans invade, despite the combined defence of Greek, British, Australian and New Zealand units. When the Germans attempt to occupy Crete, civilians and Allied Forces offer fierce resistance. With the direct participation of Australian forces in the battle for Crete, Greece acquires special significance for Australia.

The campaigns in Greece and Crete are short, sharp and destined to fail. However, they create an enduring bond between the two nations. Australians still remember the courage of Greek fighters. They also remember that after the fighting was over many risked reprisals to shelter Australian soldiers and help them escape.

Thousands of Greeks die in direct combat, in concentration camps or of starvation during the years of Nazi occupation. Most Greek Jews are murdered, despite efforts by the Greek Orthodox Church and many Christian Greeks to shelter them. The economy is devastated. After German forces withdraw in 1944, the Greek government in exile returns to Athens. A bitter civil war breaks out between the communist ELAS guerilla army and government forces (comprising republicans, liberals, fascists, royalists and conservatives). It lasts until 1949.

100,000 people are killed in the civil war. At least 25,000 are Greek. An indefinite number of Macedonian Slavs are forced to flee to Eastern bloc countries. 700,000 become displaced persons inside Greece.

1950 – 1967

From 1951 to 1960, in the aftermath of the civil war, Greece is economically dependent on US aid. Almost 12% of the population emigrates to Australia, Canada and Germany.

Until 1964, Greece is ruled by conservative parties, the divisions between communists and anti-communists profoundly affecting every aspect of political and civil life. The government’s anti-communist direction, which includes US support, shifts in 1964 with the election of the Centre Union Party and George Papandreou as president.

This period is short lived. The government falls in July 1965. A succession of coalition governments formed by conservatives and rebel liberals follows. The instability creates the opportunity for the Greek military to step in. Seizing power in 1967, they hand control to the right-wing colonels, under the leadership of George Papadopoulos.

1967 – 1974

Greece’s military government rules from 1967 to 1974. Civil liberties are suppressed, special military courts are established, political parties are dissolved. Several thousand suspected communists and political opponents are imprisoned or exiled to remote Greek islands. (US support for the junta and the involvement of the CIA in the coup are significant factors in the strong anti-American sentiment still found in the Greek community today.)

The resentment of the Greek people towards the military intensifies when students are shot dead during the Athens Polytechnic uprising in 1973, growing again in 1974 when the new head of state, Colonel Ioannides, tries to overthrow the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios. This action brings Greece to the brink of war with Turkey, which seizes the opportunity provided by these events to invade Cyprus and occupy part of the island.

Immediately after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Greek president invites exiled politician Constantine Karamanlis to restore democracy in Greece. Karamanli’ returns in 1974 and as interim prime minister organises national democratic elections. He is re-elected for two further terms.

1974 to the Current Period

In 1975, following a referendum confirming the end of the monarchy, a democratic republican constitution is instituted. Andreas Papandreou returns and founds the socialist PASOK party, which wins elections in 1981 and dominates the country’s political course for almost two decades.

Greece joins the European Union in 1981 and adopts the Euro as its currency in 2001. Growing revenues from tourism, injections of EU funds, new infrastructure and the expansion of industries all contribute to a much improved standard of living in Greece.

Many social reforms bring Greece closer to conditions in other Western European countries: equal rights for women, industrial relations reforms, importantly, the policy of National Reconciliation. Resistance fighters from the period of the Nazi occupation are compensated under this policy, and communists exiled during the Civil War are allowed finally to return to Greece.

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Celebrations

Name Days

Celebrating the festival of EpiphanyChildren born into Greek families are often given the name of a Greek Orthodox saint. Traditionally, the first-born son is named after his grandfather, while the first-born daughter is named after her grandmother. As a result cousins often share the same names. These naming conventions are still common in the Australian Greek community.

In Greek culture name days are much anticipated and have more significance than birthdays. They are celebrated with sweets, gifts and parties. The ‘honouree’ is host, with celebrations usually taking place at home. Friends and relatives drop in to wish hronia polla, or ‘many happy years’. Sometimes parties are held in restaurants or other public venues. Friends and work mates can expect to be offered sweets. It is customary to accept such offerings and wish hronia polla in return.

As carers and professionals working with Greek elders, it is important to find out the date of your client’s name day, especially if you are likely to have long-term contact. Use the Calendar of Saints’ Days to search for your client’s name day, then mark if in your diary. As name days are so significant in Greek culture your client will feel well-regarded and quite touched by your effort.

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Saints Days / Greek Names

For Greeks, name days are much anticipated annual events. More significant than birthdays, they are celebrated on the particular saint’s day with gifts, sweets and parties. Traditionally, people celebrating their name day wait for guests to visit them at home. Even if a party isn’t held,  the person celebrating their name day offers sweets or drinks to family members, friends and work colleagues. It is customary to accept these and wish the person Hronia Polla (meaning ‘many happy years’).

As name days are so significant in Greek culture it is well worthwhile finding out your client’s name day. Mark it in your diary so you can wish them Hronia Polla. To find out how to say this see The Greek Alphabet. Your client will greatly appreciate your effort to celebrate their special day. You will find the most common Greek Christian names and the date of their name day below.

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Calendar of Saints Days

Date Greek Name Male names English variant Female names English variant
1 Jan Vasilios Vasilios, Vasilis Basil, Bill Vasiliki, Vaso, Vivi, Vasia Vickiy, Vicki, Vivian
1 Jan Tilemahos Tilemahos Tim
2 Jan Silvestros Silvestros Silvester Silvestra Silvia, Sylvia
3 Jan Genovefa Genovefa, Geneviefi Genevieve
5 Jan Theoni Theoni
6 Jan Theofania Theofanois, Fanis, Fotis, Fotios, Fotinos Fani, Fanoula, Fotini, Foto, Fotoula Thea, Fay
7 Jan Synaksi Ioannou Ioannis, Yiannis, Giannis, Prodromos John, Yanni Ioanna, Yianna, Yiannoula, Ivana, Vana Jaonna, Jo, Yana, Yvonne, Vana
8 Jan Dominiskis Dominiki, Domnika Donna, Niki, Nicky
8 Jan Kelsios Kelsios Kelsia, Kelsi, Kelsia, Elsi, Elsa Chelsea
11 Jan Theodosios Theodosios, Theodosis Theo
12 Jan Mertios Mertios, Mertos, Mertis, Myrtos Mertia, Merta, Myrtoula
12 Jan Tatian Tatiani, Tatiana, Tatia, Tania Tania
13 Jan Ermyllos Ermyllos Ermylli, Ermylla
14 Jan Agni Agni, Agnoula Agnes
17 Jan Antonios Antonios, Antonis Anthony, Tony Antonia, Antonoula Antonia, Antoinette, Tonia, Toni
17 Jan Gennadios Gannadios
18 Jan Athanasios Athanasios, Thanassis, Thanos, Sakis Arthur Athanasia, Nasia, Soula Nancy
18 Jan Kyrillos Kyrillos Kyrillia, Kyrilli
18 Jan Theodoulos Theodoulos, Theodoulis Theo Theodoula, Thedoulia Thea,
19 Jan Makarios Makarios, Makaris Max, Maki Makaria, Makaro, Makaritsa, Makaroula
20 Jan Efthimios Efthimios, Efthimis, Thimios, Themis Tim Efthimia, Efthimoula Effie
21 Jan Eugenios Eugenios, Eugenis Eugene
21 Jan Maximos Maximos Max
21 Jan Neophytos Neophytos Neophytia, Neophyti
21 Jan Patroklos Patroklos, Patroklios, Patroklis Patrick, Pat Patroklia, Patra, Patroula Patricia, Pat
21 Jan Valerios Valerios, Valeris, Valios Valeria, Valeriana, Valia Valerie
22 Jan Timotheos Timotheos, Timos, Timis Timothy, Tim Timothea, Timothei, Thea, Thea
23 Jan Agathangelos Agathangelos Angelo(s) Agathangela, Agathangeli Agatha, Angela
24 Jan Xeni Xenos Xeni, Xenia Jenny
24 Jan Filonas Filonas, Filon Phil
25 Jan Gregorios, Theologos Gregorios, Gregoris Gregory, Greg
26 Jan Xenophon Xenophon, Xenophontas Fontas Xenophontia, Xenia, Xenophontina, Xenophoula
28 Jan palladios Palladios, Palladis
28 Jan Haris Haris
30 Jan Trion Ierarhon
31 Jan Evdoxia Evdoxia, Evdoxoula, Doxa, Doxoula
Date Greek Name Male names English variant Female names English variant

Family Celebrations

Greek families hold large celebrations on other religiously significant occasions, especially baptisms and weddings. Greek Orthodox Sacraments gives a complete list of religious celebrations. Customs have changed to some degree from those of rural Greece. But Greek Australian families still consider family participation in religious sacraments cause for traditional-style festivities either at home or in a restaurant, with food, drink, music, dancing and lots of sugar-coated almonds! For baptisms, engagements and weddings the role of godparents, the koumbaro (male) or koumbara (female), is important and he or she is toasted by guests and family members.

Your elderly Greek clients may have children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren who are being baptised or getting married. If your client is attending family celebrations, your congratulatory wishes will be greatly appreciated.

  • If a baby is being baptised you could wish your client Na sas zisi (may the child have a long life).
  • If a family member is getting married you could wish them Na zisoun (may the couple live a long life).

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Greek Orthodox Sacraments

 The Sacraments are considered the visible ways through which the Holy Spirit is imparted. The Greek Orthodox Church has seven Sacraments, or Mystiria, of which four are obligatory: Baptism, Chrysmation (anointment with holy oil), Confession and Holy Communion. The optional sacraments are Matrimony, Ordination and Unction (anointment of the sick).

Of these, the most relevant in the lives of elderly Greek Australians are Communion, Confession and Holy Unction. Many Greek elders consider receiving Holy Communion as very important. As they age, Confession increases in significance. Importantly, Holy Unction is specifically administered to the physically and mentally ill. The following information is particularly important for carers and service providers who may be required to arrange for Confession and Holy Unction to be given.

Baptism and Chrysmation

Baptism and Chrysmation take place during the same service. The priest, with the participation of the godparent, immerses the naked infant in the baptismal font and anoints the child with holy oil. Chosen by the child’s parents, godparents must themselves have been baptised as Orthodox Christians. They are expected to have a serious life-long interest in the child’s spiritual upbringing.

The ‘renewal’ of the child and the new relationship that is formed with the godparent is celebrated by family and friends with feasting and dancing after the church service. Godparents and parents address each other as koumbare (male) or koumbara (female) and the child addresses the godparent as noune (male) or nouna (female). To the Greek family, the relationship of the godparent to family is of special importance and godparents are included in other family celebrations and festivities.

Confession (Exomologisi)

This involves the admission of wrongdoing and the seeking of God’s forgiveness. It takes place in church, in confidence with a priest, in front of an icon. The frequency of confession varies as it is the individual’s decision when to make it. The most devout typically arrange to make confession once a year, often during Lent, leading up to Easter.

Communion

Communion is given at every Sunday service and on saints’ days and special feast days. A re-enactment of Christ’s Last Supper, it is meant to create a union between God and the faithful. Individuals may prepare for confession some days before with prayer and fasting, though during Lent, and for major feast days, such preparation may take longer. The church welcomes contributions of bread and wine for Communion from the community. Women usually bake the bread (prosforo), which is taken to church early Sunday morning to be blessed by the priest.

Marriage

greek-wedding-liturgy.jpggreek-wedding-liturgy.jpgIn the marriage ceremony, the couple commits to each another and to raising a Christian family. The service is conducted around a small table, with several essential items: wedding crowns (stefana), two wedding rings, the book of Gospels, a cup of wine and two candles. During the service the rings are blessed and the wedding crowns are exchanged three times. Designated scriptures are read and the bride and groom share a common cup of wine. Finally, led by the priest, the couple circles the small table in the ‘Dance of Isaiah’ before they are proclaimed husband and wife.

Holy Unction

The physical and mental healing of the sick is the focus of Holy Unction. During this service the priest anoints the faithful with holy oil. The service is conducted once a year on Holy Wednesday of Holy Week, but it can also be administered privately at the request of those who are very ill. It can take place in a person’s home, at church, or in hospital or residential facility. The person receiving Holy Unction should prepare with confession and fasting, if health permits.

Ordination

Through ordination the church confers power on certain of its members to undertake the ceremonies and services associated with the various sacraments. Only men can be ordained in the Orthodox Church. Importantly, priests and deacons may be married, but must marry before being ordained.

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New Years Day

On New Year’s Day the secular and religious St Basil the Great feast day is celebrated. A special church service is held in the morning and traditional Greek foods are shared. Everyone has a slice of vasilopita, a sweet bread or cake containing a hidden coin said to bring good fortune to whoever gets the lucky piece of vasilopita.

First of January is also the name day for people named Vasili (Basil, Bill) and Vasiliki or Vaso (Vicky).

Lent

In the lead-up to Lent in Greece there are up to three weeks of festivities, varying in form from region to region. This is a period of Orthodox religious significance, but it also connects to the ancient Greek Dionysian festival of early Spring, celebrating the earth’s rebirth after winter. In Australia celebrations occur for just the few days prior to Lent.

Clean Monday (Kathari Dheftera) marks the end of the festivities, known as Apokries, and the commencement of Lent (Saracosti). On this day Greeks wish each other ‘Good Lent’ (Kali Saracosti). In Greece it is a public holiday.’

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Easter

Greek Easter

Embraced by all Greeks, Easter (Pascha) is the most celebrated feast in Greek culture. Rich in tradition and custom, it is the highlight of the religious calendar. As Orthodox Easter is based on the Julian calendar, Easter falls at a different time each year, and at a different time from the Easter period recognised by other Christian churches.

For Greeks Easter is symbolised not only in the celebrations of Easter Sunday. It involves a period of preparation over a number of important days.

Clean Monday

Clean Monday (Kathari Dheftera) is the beginning of Lent (Saracosti). Religious tradition requires abstinence and self-discipline in this period. On Clean Monday Greeks wish each other Good Lent or Kali Saracosti. In Greece it is a public holiday.

Lent

Lent (Saracosti) begins 40 days before Palm Sunday. The devout follow a diet of vegetables, bread, wheat products, legumes, shellfish and fruit. All animal products (e.g. milk, butter, meat) are prohibited.

Some follow these prohibitions strictly while others only fast on Wednesdays and Fridays and in the last week of Lent. Many elderly Greek Australians adhere to the traditional requirements of fasting, prayer and charity. In the week leading up to Easter they may wish to make confession.

Palm Sunday

The last week of Lent, or Holy Week, begins with Palm Sunday. Commemorating Christ’s return to Jerusalem, it is the most significant aspect of Easter. Greeks attend a special church service where everyone receives a cross made of palms. At home, fish is served rather than meat. Palm Sunday is also the name day of all those called Vaios or Vaia, meaning bay or palm leaf.

Holy Week

In Holy Week (Megali Evdomatha) evening church services focus on specific themes: charity (Holy Monday), forgiveness and repentance (Holy Tuesday), compassion and mercy (Holy Wednesday). On Holy Thursday a special morning church service commemorates the Last Supper. The evening church service commemorates Christ’s final hours before the Crucifixion. Red Easter eggs are traditionally dyed on Holy Thursday. They are used at midnight on Holy Saturday and for Easter Sunday celebrations. (Learn how to dye eggs and make bread for Greek Easter in Religious Activities.

Good Friday

Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) is the most solemn day of the year and is a time of strict mourning and fasting. On Holy Friday even those who are not religious fast. The church holds morning, afternoon and evening services and most Greeks attend at least one.

The evening service attracts the most attention. A flower-decorated funeral bier holding the epitaphios (an icon of Christ’s burial embroidered on cloth) is venerated. Worshippers kiss the bier and hold their crosses up to it. You may have seen candle-lit processions following a funeral bier in the streets around local Greek Orthodox churches. The police often put up road blocks to allow processions to occur.

In Greece Good Friday is a public holiday. In Australia Orthodox Good Friday does not coincide with the Good Friday public holiday. Some Greek Australians take time off work to attend church services.

Holy Saturday

Many people take Holy Communion at the Holy Saturday morning service. Often a long queue forms outside the church. Holy Saturday is spent preparing meals to be shared after midnight mass. Many people also deliver gifts to godchildren – clothing, or the traditional items of a long white candle and dyed eggs.

The midnight service (the Anastasi or resurrection service) is the climax of the Orthodox year. People arrive at their church before midnight. Nearly all Greeks, religious and non-religious, attend this service. Inside the church participants hold candles. A few minutes before midnight all lights are switched off, the priest appears at the altar holding a lit candle, and he invites everyone to receive the light to glorify Christ, who has risen from the dead.

The light is passes among the congregation until the entire church is aglow. Then the priest reads about the Resurrection from the Gospel and the Christos Anesti is sung. As they leave the church people greet each other saying Christos Anesti (Christ has risen) and reply Alithos Anesti (He has truly risen). This greeting is used for up to 40 days after Easter.

People return home, keeping their candles alight. Traditionally, families use the Anastasi candle to make a cross of smoke over the front door and to light the kandili in front of the family icon. The Anastasi meal follows with the cracking of the dyed eggs and traditional Easter foods, including Easter bread (tsoureki) and mayeritsa or lamb soup.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday (Pascha or Lambri) is a day of feasting. Lamb is typically cooked on a spit and a variety of other Greek dishes are eaten. Greek Australians continue to celebrate Easter in the customary ways. In the days leading up to Easter Sunday, Melbourne ‘s Greek community is busy buying the essential ingredients for Easter celebrations from specialty Greek stores: eggs, dye, decorated candles, sweets, Easter bread and meat. Butchers, especially those in Melbourne’s Greek shopping precincts, are inundated with orders for whole lambs, lamb for mayeritsa soup, and koukouretsi (lamb intestines), which are used to wrap a variety of meats to be cooked in the oven or on a spit.

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The Dormition of the Virgin Mary

Held on 15 August, in Greece the Dormition is marked by a public holiday. Festivals (paniyiria) are held in villages and towns across the country. Many Athenians return to their home towns and villages in rural Greece for the summer holidays. This is one of the few occasions when children and grandchildren get together with parents and grandparents still living in rural communities.

Greek Australians continue this tradition with parish celebrations and visits to each other’s homes. 15 August is also a very popular name day. Many common male and female names are celebrated, including: Mary, Maria, Panayiota, Despina, Panayiotis and Mario.

Christmas

Christmas is celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church on 25 December. On Christmas day early morning church services commemorate the birth of Jesus. Families celebrate much as other Australians do, putting up Christmas trees, exchanging gifts, having BBQs and going on holidays. Lunch is often lamb on a spit. Kourambiethes and melomakarona the are the traditional Christmas sweets. In the Greek tradition it is St Basil, not Santa Claus, who delivers the children’s gifts. Greek carols sung by groups of young children going from house to house are called kalanda.

People named Christos (Chris), Christine, Emmanuel or Emmanuela are visited by family and friends to celebrate their name day.

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Religious Dates

Many religious celebrations in the Orthodox calendar are related to Saints’ Days. These and other significant religious dates are celebrated by the Greek elders, sometimes adapted to the Australian context.

The Epiphany

The Epiphany (Ta Theofania or Ta Fota) is celebrated on 6 January. It marks the baptism of Christ and is celebrated in Victoria around the waters of Port Phillip Bay. Following church services in local parishes near the Bay, the priest, followed by a procession of the faithful, carries a cross to the sea. On piers in South Melbourne, Frankston and Rye, the cross is thrown into the water in a ritual representing physical and spiritual cleansing. Young men and boys jump into the water to catch the cross. Whoever retrieves it receives the priest’s blessing, and sometimes a gift. It is customary after Epiphany celebrations for the priest to visit parishoners’ homes and bless them with holy water.

Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Presentation of Christ in the Temple is celebrated on 2 February. Forty days after the birth of Christ, it marks the occasion of Mary and Joseph taking their new born baby to the temple, in accordance with Jewish tradition. The custom continues today in the Orthodox Church, with parents taking new born infants to church 40 days after birth.

The Annunciation

The Annunciation (Evangelsimos) is celebrated on 25 March. It coincides with Greek National Independence Day. The Annunciation marks the revelation by Gabriel that Mary would conceive the Son of God. This is one of the Orthodox Church’s major feast days. Because it coincides with Independence Day, it is an even more significant celebration for Greeks, worldwide.

Easter

This is the most important feast of all. See the section Greek Easter.

The Ascension

This celebration takes place 40 days after Easter. It is commemorated with a church service. The Orthodox Church believes that the soul of Christ remained on earth for 40 days before ascending to heaven.

Pentecost

Pentecost (Pentikosti) is the celebration of the founding of the Christian church. It marks the occasion of the Holy Spirit descending to Christ’s disciples. This significant date in the Orthodox Church calendar is celebrated 50 days after Easter.

The Transfiguration of Christ

Celebrated on 6 August, this is a reminder to Christians of the hope for change that Christ embodied. The Transfiguration marks the revelation of Christ’s divine nature to three of his disciples. It falls within the two week fasting period of the Dormition, though fish may be eaten on this day.

The Dormition of the Virgin Mary

The Dormition of the Virgin Mary (Tis Panayias) is the most significant feast day honouring the Virgin Mary. Celebrated on 15 August, the devout prepare for it by fasting for two weeks from 1 August. In Greece it is a public holiday and there are festivals (paniyiria) held in villages and towns across the country.

Falling in the middle of the summer holiday period, many Athenians return to their home towns and villages in rural Greece to celebrate. It is a major occasion, one of the few when the children and grandchildren of the small number of elderly Greeks who remain in rural communities all come together.

Greek Australians continue the tradition with celebrations held in parishes and at home. It is also a very popular name day. The names Mary, Maria, Panayiota, Despina, Panayiotis and Mario are celebrated on the occasion of the Dormition.

The Nativity of the Virgin Mary

This marks Mary’s birthday and is celebrated on 8 September. A special church service is held where songs composed in the Virgin’s honour are sung by the congregation.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

This much revered observance is held on 14 September. It honours St Helen’s discovery of the cross. A church service is held and it is a day of strict fasting. The names Stavros and Stavroula (meaning ‘cross’) are celebrated.

Presentation of the Mother of God in the Temple

Celebrated on 21 November, the Virgin Mary and her parents are honoured on this day. It commemorates Mary’s presentation, at the age of three, to the temple where she would spend the next 12 years under the guidance of holy teachers. Special church hymns and writings are included in the church service.

Christmas

Celebrated on 25 December, the most devout prepare for Christmas with prayer and fasting over a six week period, commencing 15 November. An early morning church service is held and family gatherings inevitably include sharing a meal.

Greek Australians celebrate Christmas like most other Australians: exchanging gifts, having a BBQ, taking a holiday. Many roast a lamb on a spit for lunch. Those named Christos (Chris), Christine, Emmanuel and Emmanuela celebrate their name day.

In the Greek tradition it is St Basil, and not Santa Claus, who brings gifts to the children. The traditional Christmas sweets are kourambiethes and melomakarona (sweet biscuits). The Greek carols sung by young children in groups going from house to house are called kalanda.

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Basic Greek Phrases in Aged Care

We’ve put together a list of words and phrases that will be useful to you in your aged care work.

Good morning Kalimera
Good evening Kalispera
Hello Yia sou (addressing one person)Yia sas (addressing two or more people)
Good bye Yia sou (addressing one person)Yia sas (addressing two or more people)
How are you? Ti kanis? (addressing one person)Ti kanete? (addressing two or more people)
Good Kala
Not Good Ohi kala
I am well Ime kala
I am not well Then ime kala
Yes Ne
No Ohi
Thank you Efharisto
Please Parakalo
My name is Me lene
What is your name? Pos se lene?
Today Simera
Tomorrow Avrio
Yesterday Hthes
Cold Krio
Are you cold? Krionis?
Hot Zesto
Are you hot? Zestenese?
Pain Ponos
Do you have pain? Ehis ponous?
Where do you have pain? Pou ehis ponous?
Show me Thixe mou
Are you tired? Kourastikes
Are you wet? Ise vregmenos? (to a male)Ise vregmeni? (to a female)
Bath Banio
Shower Douz
Toilet Toualetta; meros
Medication Farmaka
Tablets Hapia
Injection Enesi
Hospital Nosokomio
Doctor Yiatros
Nurse Nosokomo (female)Nosokomos (male)
Water Nero
Food Fayito
Are you hungry? Pinas?
Walk Perpatima
Let�s go together Pame mazi
Come/Come along Ela (addressing one person)Elate (addressing two or more people)
Your son O yios sou
Your daughter I kori sou
Your grandchild To egoni sou
Your grandchildren Ta egonia sou
Telephone Tilefono
In Mesa
Out Exo
Here Etho
There Eki
Close Konda
Far Makria
Now Tora
Later Meta
Before Prin
Do you want a shower? Thelis douz?
Do you want a drink? Thelis na pyis?
Do you want a blanket? Thelis kouverta?
Do you want to go the toilet? Thelis na pas stin toualeta?
Do you want to go to the TV Room/lounge room? Thelis na pas sto saloni?
Do you want to lie down? Thelis na ksaplosis?
Do you want to wash your hair? Thelis na plinis ta mallia sou?
Please stand up Parakalo siko pano
Please sit down Parakalo katse

The Greek Alphabet

The Greek alphabet is old! It is derived from the Phoenician alphabet, going back at least 3,000 years.

Modern Greek uses the 24-letter alphabet of Classical Greek, though the sounds of the letters have changed over the past two millennia.

There are seven vowels in the Greek alphabet but only four vowel sounds.

Vowels are only ever pronounced one way as shown below i.e. never rounded and always short.

There are two consonants which are very unfamiliar to the English language ear.

These are Gamma and Hi. Gamma may be pronounced as the Y in yes or a deep gutteral sound, something between a hard G and the ch in loch.

The sound used will depend on the preceeding vowel.

The closest equievelent of the Hi sound in Enlish language is the ch sound in loch as it would be said by a Scot.

 

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Uppercase Lowercase Name of letter Sound of letter
Α α Alpha a as in u in under
Β β Beta v
Γ γ Gamma Refer to the notes above
Δ δ Delta th as in ‘the’
Ε ε Epsilon e as in ‘egg’
Ζ ζ Zita z
Η η Ita i as in ‘igloo’
Θ θ Thita th as in ‘thank’
Ι ι Yiota i as in ‘igloo’
Κ κ Kappa k
Λ λ Lamda l
Μ μ Mi m
Ν ν Ni n
Ξ ξ Xi ks
Ο ο Omikron o as in ‘oxygen’
Π π Pi p
Ρ ρ Rho rh
Σ σ Sigma s
Τ τ Taf t
Υ υ Ypsilon i as in ‘igloo’
Φ φ Fi f
Χ χ Hi Refer to the notes above
Ψ ψ Psi ps
Ω ω Omega o as in ‘oxygen’
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