Nine Greek Traditions For Greek American Heritage Month

Updated January 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
If you or someone you know is of Greek heritage, you may be familiar with some famous Greek customs that are celebrated every March during Greek American Heritage Month. However, others may be new to you. From traditions surrounding food to Greek Orthodox religious traditions, below are nine ways to celebrate Greek American Heritage Month this year. 

1. Celebrate Greek Independence Day

Greek Independence Days falls within Greek American Heritage Month—on March 25. Greek people have been celebrating Greek Independence Day since the end of the Greek Revolution in 1921. Before that, Greece had been occupied by the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years. Today, Greek Independence Day is celebrated around the world— including by Greek Americans in the U.S. For example, Boston, New York, and many cities in Florida have Greek Independence Day parades. A common Greek tradition for Greek Independence Day is having children march in a parade dressed in traditional Greek costume while waving the Greek flag. To celebrate Greek American Heritage Month this year, you can join in by learning more about Greek Independence Day.

2. Partake In Some Plate Smashing

A smashed plate at a Greek American celebration is a sign of a successful party. Plate smashing started as a tradition to rid events of the evil eye. The idea is that having too much fun can draw in bad energy, or the “evil eye.”

The “evil eye” is a belief that dates back as far as ancient Greece. In Greek, the evil eye is called μάτι (mati). Mati is believed to be the evil spirit people spread by looking at someone with jealousy, anger, or negative emotions. Even a single look from someone with an “evil eye” is believed to curse the person they look at, often unbeknownst to them. 

Smashing a plate is an indicator that no more bad energy is needed, as it already exists. Basically, the plate smashers are tricking the evil eye and the positive energy alive. 

3. Celebrate With Some Hippocratic Care 

The evil eye is said to bring with it symptoms such as discomfort in social gatherings, nightmares, and just overall sadness. However, there’s a Greek philosopher who studied mental health care and the best treatments for symptoms like these—Hippocrates.

Hippocrates began studying trauma care and mental health care during the frequent wars in ancient Greece. He came to believe that mental health and physical health were interdependent. In an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, researchers say that Hippocrates believed “treatment that included physical exercise, massage and walks [were] considered necessary to restore health, well-being of the soul and the inner peace of man.” 

Therapists around the world still use Hippocrates's holistic well-being approach in their practices today in a field known as integrative psychology. If holistic health is important to you, a therapist trained in integrative psychology may be a great fit for treating any mental health concerns you have. Researchers have found integrative psychiatry to be highly effective in a variety of areas, including for reducing hospital readmissions for early-phase psychosis, according to an EPA study.

On BetterHelp, you can be matched with an integrative psychologist who understands your interest in finding holistic health. If you don’t like the idea of going to see a therapist, you might try online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be just as effective as in-person therapy. With BetterHelp, you can contact a therapist completely online via videoconference or in-app messaging.

4. Visit A Greek Orthodox Church

Between 81% and 90% of Greek Americans identify as being Greek Orthodox, so it probably comes as no surprise that many Greek traditions are rooted in their Christian heritage. A visit to a local Orthodox church may help deepen your understanding of Greek culture. To many Greek Americans and Greeks around the world, the church is an important place to come together, celebrate, and pray. You may notice that the Greek Orthodox cross looks a bit different than the crosses adorning other churches. The cross generally has three horizontal cross beams rather than one. The middle bar represents the cross Christ was nailed to, and the tilted bottom bar points the way to heaven and hell.  There are many traditions and celebrations in the Greek Orthodox Church as well, like celebrating each name day, which we’ll discuss next.

5. Celebrate A Name Day

Long before most Greek people celebrated birthdays, they celebrated “name days,” or the celebration of the person you were named after. Many Greek Americans are named after Greek saints, martyrs, and holy people from the Greek Orthodox religion. Each person’s name day generally falls on the day of the holy person’s date of death. For example, if your name were Lydia, March 23 would be your name day. This name day comes from Lydia of Thyartira, who is believed to be the first European to convert to Christianity. 

6. Make Christopsomo With Your Family

The tradition of making Christopsomo, which translates to Christ Bread, is generally reserved for Christmas Eve, but it can also be a fun tradition to try for Greek American Heritage Month. Christopsomo bread is adorned with a cross and includes walnuts to symbolize life and fertility. The bread itself is seen as an offering to Christ to bring well-being, health, and happiness to a household. The leftover dough from making the Christopsomo bread is traditionally made into smaller little loafs to give to the breadmaker’s godchildren. 

7. Read The Future Through Coffee Stains

You may have heard of reading tea leaves, but what about reading coffee grounds? The tradition of Greek coffee ground readings is an ancient art. Here are a few things to know about the tradition of reading coffee grounds. 

First, make yourself a Greek coffee. An American coffee likely wouldn’t work because it doesn’t have thick enough sediment. Then, swish around what’s left in the bottom of your cup once you're finished. You should mix it three times in a clockwise circle. Then, turn the cup upside down and leave it for a few minutes to dry. Finally, flip your cup upright. If a big chunk of grounds is left on the saucer soon your current troubles will be gone. You can also learn how to interpret the residue left behind. If you're not quite sure about traditional interpretations, you might invite a Greek friend over who has experience reading coffee grounds. Generally, this is a tradition passed down from grandmothers to their grandchildren.  

8. Listen To Some Laïkó Music

Laïkó (λαϊκό) is the popular music of the Greek people. Laïkó evolved from traditional ancient Greek music and added in pop elements. Laïkó can be a fun way to bring together modern popular music with traditional Greek instruments and sounds. One of the most famous laïkó musicians was Stelios Kazantzidis, with hits like "Everything Is a Lie, a Breath, a Sigh” (Duo portes exei h zoh). A few other popular laïkó artists are singer Nikos Xanthopoulos, composer Mimis Plessas, and lyricist George Zambetas. 

9. Learn The Zeibekiko

While you’ve got the laïkó hits playing, you might try the traditional Greek dance: Zeibekiko. The Zeibekiko dance gets its name from the Zeybeks, a militia of Greeks who lived in Smyrna between the 17th and 20th centuries. This dance originally was seen as a time for men to be able to express their feelings and the emotional pain they felt from battles and fighting within the Ottoman Empire. The dance itself is completely improvised, focusing on feelings over rules, and it is generally danced to the tune of laïkó hits. Other fun Greek traditional dances to celebrate Greek American Heritage Month include Kalamatiano, Hasapiko, Syrto, and Tsamiko.

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