Ritual characterizes every aspect of life here, and even mundane, daily activities take on an ageless quality. The daily rhythm begins at dawn, as the fishermen launch boats from countless harbors, an event that has taken place for centuries. The women go to market, exchanging greetings and comments. Ritual rules the care and time taken with every detail of the midday meal, from the hearty seafood appetizers to the strong, syrupy coffee that marks the end of the feast. The day winds down with the evening stroll, a tradition thoroughly ingrained in the culture of the Greek Isles. In villages and towns throughout the islands, sunset brings cooler air and draws people from their homes and the beaches for an enjoyable evening walk through town squares, portside promenades, and narrow streets.
Ancient crafts still flourish in the artisans’ studios and in tidy homes of countless mountain villages and ports. Embroidery--traditionally the province of Greek women--is created by hand to adorn the regional costumes worn during festivals. Artists craft delicate silver utensils, engraved gems, blown glass, and gold jewelry. Potters create ceramic pieces featuring some of the same decorative patterns and mythological subjects that captured their ancestors’ imagination.
Weddings, festivals, saints’ days. And other celebrations with family and friends provide a backdrop for grave and energetic Greek dancing. For centuries--probably ever since people have lived on the islands--Greek islanders have seized every opportunity to play music, sing, and dance. Dancing in Greece is always a group activity, a way to create and reinforce bonds among families, friends, and communities, and island men have been dancing circle dances like the Kalamatianos and the Tsamikos since antiquity. Musicians accompany revelers on stringed instruments like the bouzouki--the modern equivalent of the lyre.
While traditional attire is reserved mainly for festive occasions, on some islands people still sport these garments daily. On Lefkada and Crete, it is not unusual to find men wearing vraka, or baggy trousers, and vests, along with the high boots known as stivania. Women wear long, dark, pleated skirts woven on a traditional loom, and long silk scarves or kerchiefs adorn their heads. All the garments are ornamented by hand with rich brocades and elaborate embroidery. All over the Greek Isles, Orthodox priests dress in long black robes, their shadowy figures contrasting with the bright whites, blues, and greens of Greek village architecture.