Tag Archives: greek

Greek Red Egg Cracking on Easter


I have a Greek friend whose family still practices lots of older Greek folk traditions. One of these is an Easter tradition involving eggs that are dyed red. Everyone takes one and they begin smashing them against each other, two at a time. Typically, when two eggs meet, only one of them cracks. The person whose egg is left untarnished is said to have good luck for the rest of the year! It’s almost like a competition or a game, and my friend told me there’s some strategy to it, since you can use either side of the egg to hit someone else’s.


My friend doesn’t really believe in the superstitious aspects of Greek traditions, even if his mother and extended family do. He does, however, enjoy participating because some Greek traditions are very fun, like this one. My friend didn’t really know the significance of the eggs cracking or why they were painted red. We had to do some research to find out that the cracking of an egg symbolizes Jesus’ opening of the tomb he was buried in, and the red dye is to symbolize Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. He told me that his grandma definitely knew about this but had not discussed it to him as a child, probably because of its grotesque nature. For my friend’s Greek family, the tradition has a significance greater than its religious one because it brings the family together for the holiday.


I did some more research on my own and found out that some people attribute the egg tradition to Mary Magdalene, whose cooked eggs miraculously turned vibrant red when she witnessed Jesus rising from the grave. Easter egg painting has remained a tradition across Europe and into the Americas. In America, where religious tradition has become remarkably secular, Easter egg painting has become a simple activity to entertain kids on the holiday. In my friend’s family, however, I believe the intention was to teach children about important religious stories and celebrations. Painting eggs red and cracking them is an easy way to remember what happened when Jesus rose from the dead. My friend may have been too young for the lesson to be taught, but he did know his grandma to be a teacher of religious stories to her chidlren and grandchildren.

Greek Fortune-Telling Coffee


I have a Greek friend whose family still practices lots of older Greek folk traditions. One of these is Greek coffee cup fortune telling, practiced specifically by his grandma. She has her subject drink a cup of Greek coffee, which leaves lots of residue in the cup after it’s drunk. Then, she flips the mug on its side, spins it three times clockwise, and then lets it dry on the side of a plate for a little. She would pick out certain shapes or patterns from the way the coffee residue stained the cup and use them to draw conclusions about her subject’s life. They’re usually scarily accurate, and predict specific things like falling in love, losing a loved one, or making successful decisions at work.


My friend witnesses this often at family gatherings. It doesn’t take long to perform and his grandma is an expert. He, however, does not really believe in the fortune telling, most likely because it doesn’t always pan out. He remembers one time where she told an uncle that she saw a rat for him, which meant that someone near him would die soon. The uncle was shocked, but my friend acknowledges that she could’ve been messing with him since he’s one of the only non-Greeks in the family (married in). Nothing bad ever happened to the uncle. My friend’s mother, on the other hand, does believe in the fortune telling along with some other traditional Greek superstitions. His grandma has taught his mother a few things about the process in hopes that one day she might be able to do it herself.


The tradition is common to some others from around the world, like Chinese tea leaf readings. These types  I read online that that’s where it might have originated from. The coffee cup readings stem from a belief that there’s something in your being that becomes translated into the way you drink your cup of coffee that can reveal your fortune. I think the original purpose of the tradition was to provide hope in times of crisis and to have a way to be prepared for the possibly unpredictable future. Now, however, the tradition seems outdated and not that many Greek people believe in it. This could be a trait of the large Greek diaspora that lives outside of the homeland. It could also be a symptom of the times – science has progressed so far and we have so much faith in it that it seems impossible that something could tell our fortunes through just coffee grounds. The tradition functions as mere entertainment for the most part, now, and as a way to bond Greek families.

“The Honest Woodsman”: A folk tale


My informant was particularly familiar with storytelling. They had this story prepared both in terms of content as well as delivery. Throughout the telling, they made gestures and motions to convey their thoughts.

“One sunny day, there was a woodsman. This woodsman was cutting down trees and collecting lumber so he could sell it to the people in his village. He was usually respected as a really honest man, and a really hardworking man. He was in this forest chopping down wood as per usual until he hit a particularly hard piece of wood. Out of shock, his hands let go and his axe flew back behind him into a river.”

The god Hermes saw this as the woodsman searched the river for his axe. Wanting to mess around for a little bit, Hermes decided to appear to him and say ‘Woodsman, I think I may have found your axe.’ He then showed the woodsman an axe made of solid gold. And Hermes said to him ‘Is this your axe?’ The woodsman said ‘No, that is not my axe.’ Hermes said ‘Oh, this must be a different axe’ and set it aside. Then he pulled out a silver axe, ‘Woodsman, is this your axe?’ And the woodsman said ‘No, that is not my axe.’ Hermes set that one to the side and showed him another one. ‘Is this your axe?’ He holds out a very plain, very battered axe with a wooden handle and iron tip. The woodsman says ‘Yes! That is my axe! I built it myself!’ Hermes, very impressed by his honestly, gave the woodsman all three axes for being such an honest person.”

The woodsman return to his village and shared the news. A competitor of the woodsman, a man who did not work so hard and was not known for being trustworthy, saw this and grew very jealous. The next day, this competitor went to a similar part of the woods and started cutting down trees behind pretending to drop his axe in the river behind him. So Hermes, seeing this again, appears and says ‘Hello, it seems you’ve lost your axe.’ The competitor said ‘Ah yes, I lost my axe! Do you, by any chance, know where it is?’ Hermes pulls out a golden axe and offers it to the competing woodsman. He asks, ‘Is this your axe?’ to which the competitor said ‘Yes, of course it is!'”

Hermes makes the golden axe disappear and actually takes the man’s own axe. The competitor said ‘That’s my own axe! I built it with my own hands and I use it for my livelihood. Hermes responded ‘A man who cannot be honest probably doesn’t make an honest living and should not make one at all.’ With that, Hermes leaves.”

The informant smiled. “The end.”


“I don’t know, it’s the story that’s stuck with me the most because when I was younger, I liked to read a lot of tales and fables. This is one that stuck out to me.”

“I had a book of Aesop’s Fables, so it was probably in that book,” they said, a bit unsure. “But seeing as all stories are the same and storytelling is very repetitive in its behavior, I probably heard it– or something like it– in a church setting since I was raised in Catholicism. The first time I heard the story the way I heard it was probably in that book.”

“It’s a pretty simple story– it’s a story of ‘tell the truth and you’ll get good things out of it.’ It’s mainly giving a moral, but because of the Greeks, it’s probably also used as a way of saying ‘The Gods giveth, the Gods taketh away.'”


“The Honest Woodsman”/”The Honest Woodcutter” story is one that I’ve come across in other cultures– specifically Japanese. I thought it was particularly interesting that the version I heard never had a competing woodsman who had an example made of them. In this version, I think it’s not only a lesson on being honest, but also a lesson on being a good person in general. This version makes sure to describe the competing woodsman as being not-hardworking, jealous, and greedy along with being dishonest. It’s this combination of negative traits that suggests there should be a punishment given to him as a moment of comeuppance.

Scylla and Charybdis: Folk tale monsters


“I really like the story of Scylla and Charybdis– which also relates to the saying of being between a rock and a hard place; and some people alternatively say ‘between Scylla and Charybdis.’ It’s because the whole tale goes, in two stories, people are trying to sail through this narrow path. It’s between this big cliff where this legendary monster known as Scylla resides within. Scylla used to be this normal and beautiful woman, but she was cursed to be a monster with dog heads sprouting from her lower half, and now she’s gained monstrous features like scales. These dog heads constantly hunger, so now she’s just become a monster who hides within the cliffs.”

In the water is Charybdis. Charybdis is a child of Poseidon, I think. She’s a huge monster, and you never actually see her in her entirety. What stays the same among depictions, however, is her gaping maw that summons a whirlpool going down into an unending amount of teeth.”

In the tales, the main character is on the ship, but the problem with sailing through is that sailing away from the whirlpool places you next to Scylla where the wolf heads will begin to pluck crewmates off the boat and eat them whole. But if you sail away from Scylla, you risk your entire boat getting completely destroyed by Charybdis.”


“I really like this mythos because– first of all this would be a terrifying situation. As a fan of big monsters, there’s not a lot of big monster situations that would be as dreary as this.”

“Dad showed me cool monster things because he got me into that stuff. So there were Greek mythology books and games and figures that I enjoyed, including sea monsters like this.”

“This story is very relatable to picking the lesser of two evils. In order to carve your own path forward, you have to show your resolve. This was also probably something used to explain the phenomenon of whirlpools and jagged rocks that probably sunk ships.”


The tale of Scylla and Charybdis was certainly heavily referred to as a way for early humans to make sense of the world around them. I think an important piece of this tale is the lesson of making the most of a bad situation. It teaches people that sometimes there just seems to be no good option. The tale ensures and validates the idea that it’s impossible to know what choice is the right one at every given moment, but no matter what, one must resolve to press on, push through, and handle the consequences.

“Τα μάτια σου τέσσερα.”

This proverb comes from my friend LP who is Greek. 


“Τα μάτια σου τέσσερα.” The translation roughly means “use four eyes.”

“Τα μάτια σου δεκατέσσερα.” The translation roughly means “use fourteen eyes.”


“My mom and my yia-yia (a.k.a. grandma) will use the first saying whenever I go out somewhere they consider somewhat dangerous,” LP said. “For example, if I got dinner in the city with my friends, my mom would use that saying as I was walking out the door. It essentially means be careful and keep a lookout for danger. If I’m going somewhere that my mom considers to be super dangerous, she’ll use the second phrase. This just means be extra careful — hence the fourteen eyes instead of four.”


When LP told me the first saying, I thought it was interesting and that the number four made sense as I’ve heard things like “I have a pair eyes on the back of my head.” When she followed it up with the second saying about fourteen eyes, I was surprised at the huge jump in numbers and it got me curious about the number four itself since it was found in both sayings. I found that in Greek mythology, four is the number of Jupiter who is the “master of the protection and the justice,” which fit along perfectly with the context Leia provided for the phrase. The phrases are sweet and endearing as they imply caring about the wellbeing of loved ones.