Tradition has it that mothers on Thira would lull their little ones to sleep each night with sweet verses from eons of time past. Today, the tradition lives on when Santorini ladies put their kids to bed for the night.
“Sleep star, sleep dawn, sleep new moon
your cradle was brought by a pearl
To set to sleep sugar, to awake honey
to give you water that angels drink”
Such is the way for every town or region in Greece. Local traditions are uniform in their richness and unique according to the history and nature of each individual place. From the foundations of towns and villages to wedding rituals and religious holidays, Santorini maintains the fabric of its cultural heritage. Here are some of the most interesting and time-honored ones.
The Name Day
Since anybody can remember, a child’s birthday has only been celebrated once. When a child reached one-year of age, relatives were (and still are) invited to celebrate his or her birth. On this day, according to tradition, parents put the child in front of a big sifter in which a variety of objects were placed. For boys, the objects might be a trowel, a carpenter’s tool, a paper boat, and so forth. For girls, the objects might include more feminine objects. In the ritual, if the boy selected the paper boat from the objects, then the superstition had it he would become a sailor, and so on. In this way, it is believed, the profession of a child could be predicted. Such traditions are considered meaningful in order to set young people on the right past very early on. After this “birthday” ritual, children and adults only celebrate their “name day,” or the day associated with the saint the person is named after.
Weddings in Santorini take place on Sundays. By tradition, girls of the village gather in front of the bride’s house on the Thursday before, in order to break almonds and to make sugar plums. Then, on Friday, they make the bride’s bed and throw rice on it so that the wedding is solid, like the rice, and sweet, like the sugar plums.
Another part of the Santorini wedding tradition involves the father of the groom climbing on a roof at noon on the day of the wedding to shout the beginning of the ceremony to the village and the world. After this, violinists accompany the bride door to door to invite people to her ceremony saying “come to the wedding.” The total ceremony is complex and replete with many ancient traditions. At the end of the ceremony, the newlyweds put the wedding garlands they wore on their heads into a box near the religious icons they prayed before. By ancient tradition, the garlands are kept until the last survivor of the pair finally dies, and the garlands are placed in this person’s grave.
This New House
When workers first dig the trenches for the foundation of a new house on Santorini, a priest is called to slaughter a rooster on the street. After this, the parents of the owner give a blessing to the house at every corner of the structure by throwing coins into the foundation. This tradition is carried out even today, including installing a cross at every corner of the foundation. To this day, the lady of the house prepares a plate of sesame honey and raki to treat the workers and the guests.
Traditional Wear of Thira
According to ancient custom, Thirean women wear scarfs inside and outside of their homes. By the custom, the scarves are worn in a particular fashion, tightly bound and slightly upwards to reveal the forehead. Also, by custom, the married woman may welcome her visitors not wearing a scarf if her hair was done “just so” either washed or unwashed and set into a design of thick braids, and so forth. Until only recently, women of Santorini wore a hairstyle that was relative to their age and social class.
This same tradition carried through to the Thirean woman’s dress, and especially the ornate festive ones worn in past decades. Many square meters of fabric were used in the making of petticoats in previous times, and fancy corsets and bodices were also the style and tradition before the mid-20th-century.
These time-honored traditions keep the spirit of the island intact. Like all Greeks, the residents of Santorini have great respect for their ancestors and the values passed down from generation to generation.