The Greek red Easter eggs explained

In Greece, Easter is the most important religious holiday. However, the Easter bunny does not bring its colorful eggs to this country. Instead, Greek Easter is celebrated with traditions including lamb, candles, and the famous red eggs. But why are they red? And what do these eggs mean to the Greeks? Here is the tradition of the Greek red Easter eggs explained.

Why are the eggs red?

The custom of decorating eggs for Easter dates back to ancient times and can be found in many cultures around the world. In Greece, however, the color of the eggs is fixed. They have to become red. This tradition is a centuries-old custom with deep religious and cultural significance. In fact, the color red symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed on the cross.

Painting the eggs

In Greece, the tradition of dyeing Easter eggs is a multi-day process that begins on Holy Thursday. On this day, families gather to dye the eggs red using natural dyes made from boiling red onion skins or from the madder plant. After the eggs get their red coat, they are left to dry and later decorated with intricate designs using wax and dye.

The decorated eggs are then displayed on the family’s Easter table. Besides, they are exchanged among family and friends as a symbol of love and friendship. On Easter Sunday, the eggs are cracked open and shared among the family as a symbol of new life and resurrection.

Cracking the red eggs

The custom of cracking the red Greek Easter eggs is also a meaningful tradition. Since cracking the red Easter eggs symbolizes the cracking of the tomb of Jesus Christ. The eggs are cracked on Easter Sunday. Either right after the Resurrection Service in front of the church or at home amongst family. 

The tradition of cracking the red eggs is called tsougrisma. This is a small and easy game. You take one egg, and you have to tap it against another person’s egg. The goal is to crack other eggs without breaking your own. You can choose which end of the egg you use as long as it is not broken. The person whose egg remains unbroken is considered to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.

A strong tradition

The Greek tradition around red Easter eggs is one of the most widely practiced traditions. It is a cherished part of the country’s cultural heritage. Many families continue to use natural dyes and decorate the eggs with intricate designs, passed down from generation to generation. 

The tradition of red Easter eggs is also celebrated by many Greek communities around the world, keeping the customs and culture alive for future generations. I actually cracked my first red Easter eggs in the Netherlands!

Easter in Greece

Easter is one of the most important holidays in the Greek Orthodox Church and is celebrated with great solemnity and reverence. The Easter eggs are just one aspect of the rich tradition and symbolism that surrounds this time of year. Other traditions include lighting the Paschal candle and reading the Passion of Christ. Easter is also a time for family and friends to come together, share meals, and enjoy traditional Easter foods. A spit-roasted lamb and Easter bread are some examples. The celebration of Easter in Greece is a time of joy, renewal, and hope. Besides, every island and region in Greece has its own unique and local traditions related to this special holiday. 

If you’re planning on visiting Greece to explore the Easter traditions yourself, keep in mind that Greek (Orthodox) Easter, might not be on the same day as your Easter. This year, Easter will be celebrated on the 16th of April.

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The tradition of Names Day in Greece

Every culture has its own unique customs and traditions, and the Greeks are no exception. One of the most celebrated traditions in Greece is the celebration of Names Day. They occur throughout the whole country nearly every day of the year. But what is this tradition of Names day in Greece? Where does it come from, and how is it celebrated?

What is a Names day?

Greek culture is intertwined with the Orthodox religion. It was actually the Orthodox church that preserved the Greek nationality throughout the many years of occupancy in the country’s history. Name days in Greek culture are, as well, an Orthodox tradition.

In the Orthodox religion, there are many Saints. A Saint is a man or woman, chosen by God to serve as an example of how to live a holy life. They are the intermediates between God and the Orthodox Christians. As a result, many Greeks pray to these Saints, celebrate their existence, and name their children after them. 

The Orthodox Church celebrates a Saint almost every day of the year, and these days, are the name days. For example, my name is Anna. Saint Anna is the mother of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is celebrated on the 25th of July. On this day, the Greeks celebrate not only her but instead everyone named Anna. My Name day is on the 25th of July.

A note on Saints

The Orthodox religion states that Saints are people chosen by God. However, this is a religious definition. A more scientific explanation is slightly less holy. 

When the Christion Religion spread throughout Europe, the Greeks believed in their own local Gods. Getting the Greeks to join the church was difficult. You can not just take someone’s God and replace him with your own. 

What happened was that many of the local Gods were accepted into the Christian religion as Saints. This way, the religion spread while the people could still honor their own God. This did not only occur in Greece but all over the world. It was one of the reasons that Christianity was able to spread so quickly.

How is Names day celebrated?

The celebration of Names day has been a part of Greek culture for centuries and is still as popular as ever. On names days, it is traditional for family and friends to get together and celebrate the Saint’s feast day with a festive meal. Greeks honor this special day by exchanging gifts and cards with their loved ones. The presents may be anything from a special cake to a bouquet of flowers. 

It is also a custom to give a small amount of money to the person whose name is being celebrated. This is done to symbolically thank the Saint for his, or her, protection and guidance throughout the year. 

Another popular tradition on Names Day in Greece is for the person whose name is being celebrated to make a wish for the year ahead. This can be anything from good luck to health to a successful career. The wish is then passed on to their friends and family, who will do their best to make it come true.

Name days are more important than birthdays

The way Names day is celebrated in Greece almost sounds like the Greeks have a second birthday. However, for them, this day is actually more important than celebrating the day they were born.

Until the Second World War, many Greeks did not know how old they were. Neither did they know their date of birth. Birthdays have only been celebrated in Greece in the last century. Before this, a birthday was considered an unimportant, even selfish, day for the Orthodox church. Your name, however, was of great importance. 

It was considered a privilege to carry a Saint’s name, and the Greeks had to honor their name throughout life. Every Greek Anna was expected to become as righteous and virtuous as Saint Anna. An Orthodox name sets the path you should follow to lead a holy life. Celebrating Names day is therefore a way to honor a person’s connection to the church and his religious life. 

Influence on naming traditions?

The tradition of Names day in Greece is closely related to the way the Greeks name their newborns. Unlike other countries, in Greece, it is not common to use more modern names. Instead, a boy is named after his grandfather and a girl after her grandmother. Names stay traditional, and therefore the tradition of Name days remains popular.

However, it could also be the other way around. Maybe it is the tradition celebration of Names day, keeping the traditional way of naming in Greece alive. A modern name in Greece results in just one day of presents and celebration. Something no child wants when the rest of the Greeks have two! As a result, the most modern names in Greece are short for traditional names but still refer to one of the many Saints of the Orthodox church.

Do you have a Greek Name day?

There are over 150.000 English words that originate from the Ancient Greek language. And with names, Greek origin is common as well. Gus comes from Konstantinos, Kelly from Angeliki, and Bill from Vasilis. Chances are your name has a Greek counterpart, meaning you can start celebrating the Names day tradition. Check this website to see on which day your name is honored in Greece!

How to congratulate a Greek on Names day?

Do you know some Greeks and want to surprise them on their Names day? Congratulating someone in Greek is actually pretty easy. The Greeks use xronia polla on almost every occasion. On, for example, birthdays, Easter, New Year, and names day, this Greek wish is used. Xronia means years, and polla means many. Many years!

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Giorgos or Giorgia

Giorgos, or George in English, is the most common Greek name, with 10 percent of Greek men carrying this name. The name is a combination of Gi, the earth, and Ergo, work. Giorgos simply means farmer. The fact that many Georges work behind a desk today, shows the importance of the Greek traditions. Giorgos is celebrated on the 23th of April.

Yiannis or Yianna

Yiannis means gracious, or more specifically, God is gracious. His English counterpart is John and derives from Saint John. In the northwest of the Greek mainland, there is a city devoted to this saint, Ioannina, or Yannena. Saint John is celebrated in Greece on the 7th of January.

Dimitris or Dimitra

Dimitris means born from mother earth and refers to the goddess Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of the harvest. She was the protector of trees, plants, and grains. During Roman times, she evolved into Saint Dimitria, the saint of agriculture. Today the name Dimitris still means devoted to Demeter. October 26th is the day she is celebrated.

Nikolas or Nikoletta

The name Nikolas has something to do with a popular modern brand we all know, Nike. Both the name and the brand derive from the Greek word Niki, which means victory. The ending of the name, Laos mean people, so conqueror of people. Nikolas is associated with the Greek god Nike, as well as Saint Nikolas, the protector of schoolchildren and travelers. Saint Nikolas is still celebrated today. As Santa Claus in the U.S, or Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, he brings presents to children from all over the world.

In Greece, however, Saint Nikolas is not the present-giving Saint all children love. He is honored on the 6th of December, but only the Greek Nikolasses and Nikoletta’s get presents during this day.

Konstantinos or Konstantina

The name Konstantinos derives from the Latin word Constantia, which means constant, stable, or loyal. The English version is Constantine, Kostas, or Gus. The name originates from Constantine the Great. He was a Roman Emperor of Greek descendent in the 4th century, who founded Constantinople.

Konstantinos is honored on the 21st May together with Saint Eleni, the mother of the Great Constantine. The name is one of the most popular names in Greece. Many emperors, kings, and modern politicians have carried this name.

Vassilis or Vissiliki

Vassilis in Greek means king. The name comes from Agios Vasileios, a Saint who lived in the 4th century AD and is known for his generosity to the poor. Saint Vassilis is the Greek Santa Claus. For the Orthodox Greeks, Saint Nicolas is not the Saint who brings presents during Christmas. Instead, on New Years’ day, Saint Vassilis brings gifts to the Greek children.

Vassilis also has a New Years’ cake and tradition named after him, the Vassilopita. Every year, the Greeks bake this simple cake with a coin hidden inside. According to tradition, the pie is cut into equal pieces, one for each member of the family. The pieces are then handed out from oldest to youngest. Whoever gets the hidden coin, will have good luck, health, and happiness for the year to come.

Christos or Christina

Christos and Christina derive from Jesus Christ. However, in ancient Greek, Christos meant useful. The meaning later changed to righteous, virtuous and the anointed. Like Jesus Christ himself, Christos and Christina are celebrated on Christmas. Their English counterparts are Christine, Christopher, or Chris.

Maria

While the previous male names have a female counterpart, the most common Greek female names do not translate into male. Maria is the first, deriving from the Virgin Mary. Since the Orthodox church is very important in Greece, almost 10 percent of Greek women are called Maria. Her names-day is on the 15th of August, a day of celebration for the whole country. Funny is that Mary’s birthday, on the 8th of September, is also celebrated in the country, but does not count as the name day of the Greek Maria’s.

Eleni

The name Eleni means light, or sun ray. Her name derives from the famous Helen of Troy. Helen was known as the most beautiful woman in ancient Greece. This daughter of Zeus, caused the Troyan war when she left her husband to move to Troy, for love. The war, as well as Helen, have been the subject of many tv-shows and movies. Her names-day is on the 21st of May.

Katerina

Katerina derives from the Greek word Katharós, which means clean, clear or pure. Although this word can be used for both female (h thallasa einai kathari, the sea is clear) and male (o skilos einai katharos, the dog is clean) objects, the name only occurs in as female. The English counterpart is Catherine or even Katie. All Greek Katerina’s are celebrated on the 25th of November.

Sophia

Sophia in Greek means wisdom, and derives from Saint Sophia. She appears in the Bible as the female personification of wisdom. Sophia is not only a popular name in Greece. She is in the top-five of female names in the U.S. as well. However, she is celebrated only Greece on the 17th of September.

Angeliki

Angeliki comes from the Greek word Angelos. In ancient Greek, this meant messenger, but in modern Greek it translates into angle-like. Angeliki’s name is celebrated in Greece on November 8th. According to the Greek Orthodox church, this is when the assembly of the Archangels occurred. Her English counterparts are Angela, Angelina, or even Kelly.

Does your name mean something in your language? Or curious about the meaning of other Greek names? Leave a comment below! 

Did this article trigger your curiosity about the Greek culture? Leave your email below and discover the Real Greeks!

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How to cook like a Greek yiayia, grandmother?

I finally attended cooking classes with yiayia, my boyfriend’s grandmother. Her generation of Greek women cooks the most delicious meals. Tasty and seasonal, with local products gathered from friends and family who live close by. And one of the goals I had set for this year was to learn how to cook like her. 

Entering yiayia’s kitchen is not easy

My yiayia is from a time in which women did not have a paid job. Instead, her work has always been to care for the family and the household. Cooking, cleaning, and being there for her children. That is what she has done all her life. Now, she is 80 years old and did not retire yet, nor will she in the coming years. As long as she is able to, she will keep her job as the perfect mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. And the way to express her love to her family is by cooking. 

Yiayia’s food is the tastiest I have ever eaten. There is no mousaka, piroski, or kotopita like hers. I want to learn how to cook like her, but it is not easy to make a Greek grandmother allow you, her guest, into the kitchen. Greek women of this generation want to make the family happy with their food. They will cook all day, get tired, and complain, but they will never allow you to help them. 

In the past year, I have been continuously asking yiayia to let me help her in the kitchen or at least allow me to be there when she cooks. Until now, I did not get further than receiving recipes from her. However, a Greek grandmother’s instructions do not include all the information you need to cook. Yiayia would tell me to use a bit of salt and add a lot of flour, but with this information, I never recreated the taste of her dishes. I had to see it, and luckily the previous days, I was finally allowed to enter yiayia’s kitchen. 

Cooking starts early

We were going to make kotopita, a pie stuffed with a chicken from the village, inside a crispy homemade filo dough. Yiayia’s most tasty recipe and I immediately understood why. It takes yiayia two days to cook this dish! On the first morning, she makes the filo, which she then puts in the freezer till the evening. When the filo is ready to be moved into the fridge, it is time to prepare the chicken. And on day two, everything is combined into the most delicious pita or pie.

To cook with yiayia, I had to get up early in the morning. Greece is hot in the summer, and Greek life is adjusted to the temperatures. Early in the morning, it is time for work, followed by the time to swim. In the afternoon, the family eats lunch together and goes for a nap after that. And in the evening, there is again time for swimming, chores, and socializing. Yiayia knows this schedule well, and cooking in the morning can start as early as six o’clock, so, my alarm woke me up at 5.30.

When I entered yiayia’s kitchen at 6, she told me we had to hurry because there was a lot to do. Well, she had to hurry, because, for me, she put a chair in the kitchen to observe her cooking. That was not my plan! Refusing to sit, she soon understood that an extra pair of hands might come in handy when making filo dough. And I finally started learning how to cook like a Greek grandmother.

When yiayia says ligo, a little, she means a lot

The first thing I learned from yiayia is that when she says to put a little of something, she usually means you have to put a lot. Ligo alati, salt, is about a handful. Ligo olive oil in Greece apparently means to add about 7 or 8 spoons. However, when she says add ligo xidi, vinegar, a little is actually what she means.

I understood immediately why my attempts of recreating yiayia’s food with only her recipe did not turn out great. Her ligo can mean anything, from a little bit, till a lot for me. She did not learn to cook from a recipe, but instead looked at her mother when she was young. Who probably also told her to put a little of everything.

Everything has a unique technique

Using a rolling pin, cutting vegetables, or knitting dough, everything in yiayia’s kitchen has a particular way of doing it. Some recipes require medium-sized pieces of onions, and others require slightly smaller ones. There is dough that you open with your fingers open, and dough that you open with your fingers closed. There is a special technique for everything and only yiayia knows when to use which.

Yiayia’s food always has a story

The ingredients of a good home-cooked Greek meal always have a story. Especially in summer, no meal is cooked using only things from the supermarket. Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers always come from either the family or a friend. But even meat is often something from close by. 

Yiayia knows many farmers. If she wants a goat, for example, she will call a friend, and the next day a man will ring the doorbell with a package, containing her goat. For chicken and lamb, yiayia calls a different person, but always the meat comes from close and is fresh. Something we should all try to do.

Cooking is combined with other jobs

As I mentioned earlier, cooking Greek food like a grandmother, is not done within an hour. When working with dough, you need time for the yeast to work, and with mousaka, you slowly bake layer after layer in the oven. 

Cooking is a continuous alternation between hard work and waiting, but Greek grandmothers are not familiar with the definition of waiting for something. When yiayia and I finished knitting the dough for the filo, she said it was time to go to the market, do laundry, and clean the house. I found out this translates into waiting half an hour to three hours to open the filo.

Cooking means hard work

For yiayia, a good recipe requires effort, especially when working with homemade dough. When a Greek (grand)mother cooks, she gets tired, sweats, and trains her muscles. And that is what it should be according to her. Yiayia even told me to be careful when helping her, afraid it would be too hard for me. “Tell me if you’re tired, I will take over!”

It is impressive to see an 80-year-old woman still work hard, knitting a big piece of dough for 20 minutes. When I tried, my muscles pained quickly, but for yiayia, it is a normal daily job. She showed me how strong a Greek housewife is, and how hard her work at home used to be. 

I admire her even more after spending time in her kitchen.

Yiayia’s recipes (more coming soon!)

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The coffee you must try in Greece

Real Greeks love their coffee and they are really good at making it. As a result, every gas station, supermarket, shopping street, beach, and even ferry is equipped with coffee that is even tastier than what you can get at the most famous coffee place here in the Netherlands. But how to know which coffee to order in Greece?

Here is a list of the four most popular coffees in Greece. Good to know before, is that you can pick your preferred sweetness for every one of them. Order Skétos if you don’t want sugar. Métrios for medium sugar. And Glikós for the sweetest option.

Greek frappé
image from quatarcollections.com

Frappé

Although the name of this drink is French, meaning, a drink chilled with ice, this first coffee is invented by the Greeks. It is basically instant coffee, sugar and water, mixed together until it becomes a thick foam. This foam is poured into a glass filled with ice cubes, then, cold water and sometimes milk are added to complete this delicious Greek coffee.

Frappé is one of the Greeks’ favorite coffee and they even have machines that make the foam for you. These machines look like a little drill on a usually stylish pole, and although it took me some time to figure out how to make frappé, it is actually very easy, cheap, and tasty.

Take your Frappé anywhere

In Greece, the ingredients of this coffee are also sold in cups in supermarkets and gas stations. These instant frappé cups cost just 10 – 30 cents each, depending on the region. The cups include coffee, sugar, and a straw. All you need to add is a bit of water. Perfect to take on a road trip in Greece, since you can make this coffee anywhere!

Greek freddo espresso
image from perfectbrew.com

Freddo espresso

The most simple Greek coffee of all is Freddo espresso. The drink is nothing more than espresso, poured into a cup filled with ice cubes. That’s it.

Well, there is a little more. Once the espresso and half of the ice cubes are put together, the coffee is shaken till foam appears on top after the ice is dissolved. Because of this, it looks almost like there is a layer of foamy milk on top of the drink, but it is really just coffee. To finish the coffee more ice is added and it the drink is served with a straw.

I like to have this coffee Skétos, without sugar, to have the rich flavor of the amazing Greek coffee. But I am one of the few. It is safest to try this cold coffee with some sugar, Metrios, or even Glikos. If you make the coffee yourself, add the sweetener to the espresso before you put it with the ice cubes. This way the sugar will melt and mix in with the whole drink.

Freddo cappuccino

Freddo cappuccino

The last cold coffee of Greece is the one that is like a fluid dessert. Freddo cappuccino is not only an amazing drink, it is a way of life in the hot summers, all over Greece. This drink also starts with an espresso made with good coffee, but now, milk is added. The real greeks foam the milk in their frappé drill to get a thick cream. But if you don’t have one, you can also put the cold, low-fat milk in a cocktail shaker to create the foam.

In a tall glass half-filled with ice cubes the (optionally sweetened) espresso is added and on top of this comes the foamed milk. To make things even more delicious, cacao or cinnamon is sprinkled on top. It is the perfect drink to enjoy on a beach in summer, during a stop at a gas station, or while strolling over the agora, the market. Really, I can drink this all the time when I’m in Greece, it is just so tasty!

Vegan cappuccino

One last note for the vegans amongst us. Greece is very familiar with plant-based alternatives to milk because of the Orthodox religion. So if you prefer you’re coffee with soy- or oat milk, just ask! Most of the Greek coffee places will be happy to serve us vegans as well.

The greek coffee
image from mygreekdish.com

Greek coffee

Did you ever hear about Turkish coffee? Well, Greek coffee is basically the same thing, since the history of these two countries is so intertwined. But don’t tell the Greeks off course, nor the Turkish… Let’s move on to the coffee before I am in the middle of the discussion between these countries.

Greek coffee is made with a fine grind of coffee. You mix the coffee with water and slowly boil it in a tall and narrow pot called a Briki. This Briki is basically the same as the Turkish Cezve. When bubbles appear, the coffee is ready and you can serve it in a small cup, including the coffee grounds. These are what makes Greek coffee something that is a culture more than just a type of coffee.

When drinking Greek coffee quickly, you will end up swallowing the coffee grounds which is a very unpleasant end of this drink. But this is where Siga, Siga comes in. By slowly sipping the coffee, the grounds have time to settle before you have your last sip, making this coffee much more enjoyable. So when ordering Greek coffee, take it easy, slow down, talk with the people around you. Be Greek!

Your future in a coffee cup

When you finish the Greek coffee, there is a way to see your future! It is a Greek tradition to read your fortune in the dark brown mess that is at the bottom of your cup. When you finish your Greek coffee, you turn your cup upside-down and wait. A Kafetzou, the greek coffee-ground-reader, sees symbols in the dried-up coffee that tell her your future. The Greek idea is that a person’s mental, and physical condition affects the shapes formed in the coffee residue. Is it true? Probably not. But it is Greek, real Greek, and makes for a unique experience!

Greek fortune-telling or tasseography
image from okeanos.net.gr
What is your favorite Greek coffee? Leave a comment below!

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Dining in Greece is far from what it is in The Netherlands. The food is amazing, that is difference number one. The prices are really low, difference number two. But very strange for me was difference number three, my butt would hurt at the end of every dinner. At least when I had really good food.

Every restaurant I go to in Greece, especially in the non-touristic areas, has the chairs that my grandmother’s grandmother used to have at her dining table. Even without the pillow, they used to have back then. What is wrong with the Greeks?

Tradition or style?

At first, I thought that it had to do with the type of food. Traditional Greek food has to come with a traditional greek chair. To give you the experience of visiting the greek grandmother in her kitchen for dinner. But once we went to Erimitis in Paxos, a fancy restaurant with the most paradise-like view. We ate modern cuisine at a very high price but I still found myself on a traditional wooden chair. This was the moment I knew that this is just another hilarious glitch in the greek culture. And if you visited their website, don’t be fooled by their pictures, the nice chairs were just for the photographer!

For me, it seems so funny how the greeks just don’t care about some things that I learned to care about. It is kind of a relief as well. It shows me that being good at one thing is more than enough. Here in The Netherlands, you will fail to be a chef, no matter how good you are, when you are not a stylist or did not hire one. Is this fair?

The taste of Greece comes with a sore butt

Whenever we travel around Greece, we now go to the tavern that has the worst look and the least comfortable chairs, and although we sometimes have to stand up in the middle of dinner because our butts hurt too much to stay seated, we eat the best food everywhere!

So when you find yourself in Greece, don’t go to a fancy restaurant because it looks more like what you are used to believing is a good restaurant. The lounge chairs and pillows come with overpaying, less fresh ingredients, or a lower quality chef. Take the wooden chair and enjoy the real tastes of Greece.