Traditions and Customs of Santorini

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.

Santorini Weddings

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.

A Tour of the Volcano in Santorini

The active (but dormant) Nea Kameni volcano of the Santorini caldera is one of the most fascinating attractions in the world. There’s something exciting about touring a potentially hazardous place, although the site is safe, according to volcanologists and geologists from the Institute for the Study and Monitoring of the Santorini Volcano (ISMOSAV) who monitor the island.

Now, touring the volcano is safe and it is a favorite pastime for many island visitors. Nea Kameni itself is small and uninhabited. Vegetation is scarce if you don’t consider the red grassy succulents that give its rolling slopes a unique, surreal aspect reminiscent of Mars.

Nea Kameni in the spring.
Nea Kameni in the spring.

The Nea Kameni National Geological Park is a popular attraction. Boat trips to the island leave Santorini every day, carrying curious tourists to the small harbor of the island, where they will begin the ascent to the top of the volcano to hike around the crater. For those who want to admire the Caldera view and the volcano without taking part in the hiking experience, there is an alternative. Sailing cruises on the Caldera are organized every day and people have the opportunity to see the impressive view and sail near the volcano.

The main points of interest at Nea Kameni are:

  • Point A – the “Mikri Kameni” (in English “small burnt island”) dome, which was formed in 1570-1573 due to Surtseyan activity, ash-fall, and block fall-out;
  • Point B – the South Rim of the Daphne crater;
  • Point C – the twin craters, which are active and have fumaroles – so watch your step;
  • Point D – the Georgios dome peak, which formed in 1866;
  • Point E – and the Liatsika Lava, from the last eruption in 1950.

The visit to the Nea Kameni National Geological Park is not free of charge. The symbolic entrance fee charged (2 €) is intended for the upkeep of the area. Because this is a protected natural reserve, visitors are not allowed to take away any “souvenirs.” The warning reads in scarlet letters: “DO NOT MOVE BREAK OFF OR REMOVE ROCKS.” You will notice many cairns along your path, but these man-made stacks are intended to mark the route and to serve as landmarks to guide travelers.

The hike is demanding but the views from the top are rewarding enough to make the effort worth it.  Wear proper hiking shoes and bring a bottle of water with you for making the experience more comfortable: the sun and heat are strong in this part of the world. Plus, Nea Kameni has a typical sulfur odor emanated by the active fumaroles.

The INGV-type station temporarily installed on the summit crater tests the levels of CO2 coming from the soil every ten minutes, reporting whether the air is safe to breathe or not.  Scientific reports found that Nea Kameni is generally safe.

Santorini: A Prehistoric Land

Seven thousand years ago the Santorini as travelers know it today was a vastly different human habitat. What must have begun as a collection of Stone Age fishing and farming villages, soon became a trading center between Minoan Crete and Cyprus sometime after 3000 BC.

Scholars think that ancient Santorini became significant because of its strategic location first, and later because of critical trading with goods like copper. For these and other reasons, Santorini and its most famous ancient settlement of Akrotiri must have been a shining example of culture and civilization. Today visitors can still see remnants of paved streets, a cutting edge (for the time) drainage system, multistoried buildings, and artifacts of indescribable beauty and innovation. As part of the Minoan Civilization, Akrotiri and ancient Santorini flourished for more than 500 years, until the catastrophic eruption of Thera sometime between 1642–1540 BC.

Archaeologists estimate the first settlements on the island date back to the Post Neolithic Period. Akrotiri today is a kind of time capsule, not so different from the Roman city of Pompei, where the volcanic matter that covered the city and the whole island ended up protecting and preserving the buildings. Some historians contend that Santorini was the inspiration for Plato’s story of Atlantis, as mentioned in his dialogues Timaeus and Critias.

When visiting the island, travelers should be aware there are actually two settlement sites from ancient antiquity. Akrotiri is the oldest known settlement, but Ancient Thera (Αρχαία Θήρα) on top of Messavouno dates to the time of the Spartan settlers who came to the island during the 8th century BC. It is from this high dwelling place that Santorini tourists will capture the most stunning views anywhere on the island.

We also recommend visiting Fira, where you will find several museums that are worth seeing. First, the Prehistoric Museum holds many exhibits from Akrotiri and other archaeological sites on Santorini. There’s also the Archaeological Museum, that presents findings and artifacts from Ancient Thera. Also, a must-see is the Gyzi Megaron and the Museum of Local History, situated in the Kontochori Quarter.

Finally, there is indeed something magical about Santorini, and something more than the visual of a vanishing sun in the West. Certainly, the dramatic landscape of jagged hills plunging into the blue Aegean is stunning, and the picturesque whitewashed houses with blue roofs create a living postcard for visitors. Great people and remarkable cuisine make the island special too. However, one cannot help but sense there is something more here. Something magnetic that compelled those adventurous settlers to make the journey into what would become the new world.

Maybe an ancient Greek myth serves to explain the island’s distinctive character. According to old Greek stories, Santorini was formed out of a miracle connected to the famous Argonaut expedition. According to the legend, Jason and his shipmates were on their way home, when they landed on Anaphe, a small island of the Aegean Sea.

It was here that Euphemus had a vision of making love to a nymph, a siren who was the daughter of the messenger of sea god Triton. After their union, the woman told him she had become pregnant with his child and chided him over how her father would be angered. She begged for a place to hide so that she might escape the wrath of the god, to which Euphemus responded by throwing a clod of dirt into the sea. This speck miraculously re-emerged from the vacant sea and turned into an island. Euphemus named it Calliste, which means the most beautiful, but the name “Thera” is from his son of the same name, who was born there. And so, it seems clear that Santorini has been beloved by the gods from the dawn of times.

8 Must-See Museums in Santorini (With Pictures)

Santorini is the iconic Greek destination with the most fascinating sunsets and postcard-pretty cliff houses carved on the slopes of the caldera, coated in sparkling white, which contrast with the light cobalt blue of the church domes and with the vivid magenta of the bougainvillea in bloom. It’s an island with a rich past, albeit checkered at times, a brilliant example of human endurance in challenging conditions.  So, we’ve rounded up eight of the must-see museums in Santorini that show some of the historical trials that make the island great.

Christmas on Santorini: A Romantic Island Escape

Christmas on Santorini? Why not? The island is delightful when the tourist crowds return to their homes. It is peaceful and romantic, nothing like the Santorini you may experience in the warm months.

Oia looks somehow deserted around Christmas time, but you can still enjoy Santorini if you find accommodation in Fira, which is the capital of the island and its largest city. Here there are still hotels catering to tourists as well as several restaurants and cafes that serve the local population.

But what is Santorini truly like at Christmas? As famous as the sunsets may be, the sunrise on Santorini is equally spectacular, especially in winter. Some of the most beautiful celestial spectacles take place when the tourists are far from the island. This is the best time to visit Santorini armed with a professional camera. Shots like these are rare, especially when you want them unperturbed by chatty foreign visitors.

Although not a tourist attraction during the Holiday season, Santorini does decorate in joyful Christmas colors to celebrate. There will be huge Christmas trees, and even donkey figurines dressed up like Santa to make you giggle.

The best winter activities in Santorini are nature hikes. The weather is cold, but not unbearable. The freshness of the air powers up the active traveler who loves discovering new itineraries.

“You will have the chance to see some of the most impressive views that are not blocked by crowds, and this also means there are lots of good photo opportunities,” explains Santorini photographer Anna Sulte.

Are you planning to visit Santorini for Christmas holidays?

Keep in mind that the average temperature in Santorini in December is 13°C. Ferries and boat trips depend on weather conditions. Most hotels are closed for the season and on Christmas Day in many bars and restaurants that remain open, you can enjoy a Christmas meal with traditional cuisine and drinks.

As far as how to get there, you can find ferry rides from Piraeus, Athens to Thira Direct flights are also available during Christmas and New Year. The simplest way is to book a direct flight from Athens.