10 Fun Facts about Greece

Greece arguably has one of the most colourful histories of any country in the world. It’s packed with stories of centaurs and sirens, gods of mountainous proportions, and religiously-followed superstitions. When it comes to this myth-heavy destination’s past and present, the lines between fact and fiction can get a little blurry, but we’ve drawn up a list of ten pretty fun – albeit occasionally strange – facts you might be surprised to learn about Greece.

Greek people are very superstitious

The most common superstition Greek people believe in is the ‘Evil Eye’, whose negative vibes bring bad luck to those inflicted by its evil glance.

Common symptoms of the evil eye are headaches, stomach aches or excessive yawning, while the colour blue and spitting lightly on people – we’re serious – will help get rid of it. Another popular remedy is wearing anti-evil eye charms, whose little blue, white and black target-like appearance is a logo of sorts for Greek culture.

Voting is mandatory in Greece

If you’re over the age of 18, voting isn’t just a rite of passage in Greece – it’s the law. In the past, citizens would have to provide their up-to-date election booklet – proof that they had voted – in order to apply for passports and driver’s licenses, but nowadays the law isn’t strictly enforced.

No point in Greece is more than 137 kilometres from water

No matter where you go in Greece, you won’t be too far from a body of water whether it’s a river or the sea. You have Greece’s almost 15,000-kilometre stretch of coastline to thank for that, the 10th-longest in the world. In fact, Greece was believed to be a giant rock entirely under the water’s surface at one point, until a massive earthquake brought it to the surface and created the country’s extensive mountain ranges.

Santa Claus is Greek

Though born in what is present-day Turkey and currently in operation in the North Pole, Santa Claus is actually Greek.

Then known as Saint Nicholas, he was renowned for his miracle-making – including bringing people back from the dead and providing food in times of famine – and his habit of secret gift-giving. Over the years, the Santa Claus character has tacked on a red suit and rosy cheeks – as well as a team of elves and reindeer – though his roots are still in the kind man who left coins in people’s shoes.

Name days are almost as important as birthdays

Following Greek Orthodox tradition, almost every day of the year is dedicated to a specific saint or martyr. In Greek culture, if you’re named after one of those saints or martyrs, you’re entitled to festive celebrations on the day bearing your name – parties for which are almost as celebrated as birthdays. Gifts and feasts are non-negotiable.

Waving is done with closed hands

In Greece, it’s seen as impolite to wave with an open hand, a gesture also known as moutza. This belief is rooted in ancient days, when moutza was a way of cursing someone. When counting to five or waving goodbye, you’re supposed to keep your fingers slightly bent or curled into your palm entirely.

Greece is the leading producer of sea sponges

Sea sponges have been around since the 8th century BC, but the world really kicked up its love affair with the little creatures in the 18th century – especially on the Greek island of Kalymnos, also known as the ‘Sponge-divers island’.

Once the the diving suit was invented, the Greeks had themselves one serious enterprise. Though over-fishing and the introduction of synthetic sponges has brought an inevitable decline to the industry, authentic sea sponges are sold by the barrel-full in Greek seaside shops.

Greece is the birthplace of the Olympics

Though they looked very different at their humble beginning to how they do today, the Olympic Games were first held in Greece in 776 BCE. Back then, there was just one competition – a short, 200-metre sprint, the winner of which was awarded an olive wreath and maybe a little cash or olive oil. Much as they are today, the Olympics were seen as a time of peace amidst political tension, where warring countries would settle their differences so that they could gather in a single stadium and watch athletes compete.

Much of our modern language comes from the Greeks

The Greek language is one of the oldest in Europe, having been around for more than 3,000 years. Today, it’s spoken by about 12 million people, though countless English words are derived from the Greek language, including the words ‘telephone’, ‘academy’ and ‘alphabet’.

Greece is the land of olive trees

Greece is the third leading producer of olives in the world, with more than 11 million olive trees on the island of Lesvos alone. Some of Greece’s olive trees have been around since the 13th century and still produce olives to this day, many of which are used to make the olive oil the country is famous for.

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