Greek Baby Beliefs

Greek Baby Beliefs

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?

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19 Comments

  1. Sally
    18th February 2015 / 11:03 am

    I have just finished my Saranta – my 40 days. You can have a blessing so you can go out before but not at night. You also arent allowed to leave yours or your babys clothes out on the line at night, and any toenails, fingernails and hair that you may snip must go in the Livanistiri to burn.

  2. 14th January 2015 / 12:33 pm

    You can always get a half blessing at 20 days if you don’t want to do the full 40 days lol

  3. 12th January 2015 / 10:59 pm

    I’m going to have a Greek baby. Well, not me actually, but one of the characters in a novel that I currently have in very rough draft. (Sequel to the one due out next month) If it’s ok with you, I’d love to use some of your Yiayia’s wisdom to give a more authentic flavour. I’ll give due credit of course. X

    • 13th January 2015 / 8:53 am

      Please go ahead! No need to credit me at all – I’m sure there is a lot more info out there surrounding the customs that you could use as well 🙂 x

  4. 12th January 2015 / 11:29 am

    Several cultures in Africa also see the womenfolk locked inside after having a baby! Our family also has that tradition about boys name. Let just say it is a 500 year tradition that ends with me! My first Christian name isn’t Stephen!! If as part of a nice modern married couple, both my wife and I each pick a name for a child, I’m not going to waste mine on a name I wouldn’t pick myself or force it on my child or wife! Yes I will tell you my name if you ask nicely 🙂

    • 12th January 2015 / 11:33 am

      I wouldn’t want you to lift your veil of mystery! 😉

  5. 12th January 2015 / 11:12 am

    The 40 day rule was a surprise, can’t imagine confined to the indoors. I wonder what other traditions there are in other cultures….shall have to have a nose. In Ireland the eldest son is also named after his paternal grandfather but the eldest daughter is named after the maternal grandmother. Also, it was a tradition for the new baby not to receive visitors for 30 days..

    • 12th January 2015 / 11:15 am

      I think the naming tradition is fairly universal. The 40 day/30 day confinement seems to differ a lot.

  6. 12th January 2015 / 10:59 am

    Will you stay home for 40 days? I will… (I have no choice lol)

    • 12th January 2015 / 11:00 am

      I think I’d rather eat my placenta!!

      • 14th January 2015 / 9:20 pm

        A lot of women are doing that these days…. lol. Both “eating the placenta” and “staying at home for 40 days”. According to medical science there are many benefits for both of these old school traditions. They are not just old wives tales. I’ll be writing more about it very soon on my blog.

        Of course, you should always do what you feel comfortable with. It’s your baby after all!! (despite what everyone else might think lol)

        • 14th January 2015 / 9:21 pm

          Yes I know but i think ill just stick with my moussaka! 😉

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