My Yiayia (Greek grandmother – pictured with my dad and my uncle) is currently staying with my family on an extended holiday and has been regaling us all with Greek tales, traditions and ancient beliefs.
At 88 years of age, she still firmly believes that women should spend their lives in the kitchen and that a Greek man can do no wrong.
We recently got onto the subject of children and giving birth.
Well, if you thought Tom Cruise apparently demanding that Katie Holmes follow the scientology silent birth rule was wacky, check out the following list of old Greek beliefs surrounding birth and newborns.
- It was believed that a new mother was the source of jealousy and must avoid the “mati” (evil eye). Since the mati lies everywhere in Greece, the solution was to not be seen out in public for 40 days. My poor aunt was not let out of the house at all during this time, and her mental state unsurprisingly deteriorated. Her own parents did not have a say in the matter, such was the ferocity of my Yiayia’s maternal instincts. After the 40 day imprisonment, a new mother should then take her baby to the church to be blessed by the priest. Other than the mati, there was a time when it was also believed that a woman is unclean after she gives birth, hence should not be allowed out until she has been blessed.
- Rooted in Greek mythology, another belief was that on the eighth day after the birth, the Fates would visit the newborn and determine their future. Most of us are just visited by the midwife.
- Even today, some Greeks never call their baby by his or her name before the baptism. It is called “baby” for god knows how long.
- Before the Christening, it was believed that the baby’s hair should never be cut. This tradition is still followed by parents who want to have their baby baptized. The priest cuts a lock of hair from the infant for the first time during the baptism.
- The sex and name of the baby was a big issue back in the day. While not such a big deal today, in my Yiayia’s time having a boy first was considered very important in order to carry on the family name. If the first baby is a boy, he gets the name of his grandfather from his father’s side (because of course, the mother’s side do not count). Even nowadays, most babies are named after their grand-parents. Personally, I think that this is quite a nice tradition, but ONLY if the in-laws have half-decent names and once the name is taken by one child, no other child should be expected to be named after the in-law also. And I think some of the older names should be modernised – how embarrassing for a kid to tell his school friends his name is Nick, then he gets called up in assembly by the head teacher addressing him as Nikolakopoulos. Come on people, we live in modern times now.
- When a baby yawns, it used to be customary to make the sign of the cross over his/her mouth to protect them from evil. This would then mean that you have to watch the baby all day and night in case it swallows any evil when you are not looking.
Funnily enough, this conversation was going on while we were watching an episode of Call the Midwife over the Christmas period. My Yiayia advised my mother to switch the TV off when one of the characters started howling in agony, for fear that I would be subjected to the truth behind childbirth.
Well, believing that a stork delivers all the babies is a much nicer story after all…
Have you heard of any wacky traditions/customs surrounding pregnancy / childbirth / or after?