What does it mean to ‘be on holiday?’ As a parent with three young children it means switching off and putting my feet up, disconnecting from the day-to-day digital universe and stepping back inside the real world. For the younger, Snapchat generation, detachment from their mobile device and the connected world can be a little more tricky – which is why Greece is the perfect introductory destination for children.
Greek culture is built upon five founding pillars; tradition, religion, music, food and dance. A world away in many ways from the right now, insta-moment nature of our regular day-to-day existence. Immersing yourself in another country’s way of life is all part of the holiday experience and involving children at the same time means fun for all the family.
Greek history and mythology
Ancient history and the legends of Greek mythology are fascinating to children, particularly those brought up on a diet of Marvel superhero movies! Reading family friendly fables before you travel can be a great way of igniting that interest. The legacy of Zeus – King of the Gods – and Poseidon – God of the sea – are ones that can certainly fuel the fire of an overactive imagination. The character Thor from the Marvel universe, although of Nordic origin, shares many character traits with both Zeus and Poseidon. Both Thor and Poseidon carry a weapon of choice – Thor his hammer and Poseidon his trident – and both Zeus and Thor can manipulate the weather.
Odysseus is another character bound to impress young minds. His epic ten year voyage home from the Trojan War might be just the type of hook you need to transfer that interest onto the many historic and mythological sites you can see throughout Greece. Agios Athanasios in Ithaka, for instance, is an archaeological site believed to be the location of the palace of Odysseus. Having something to relate these sites to is a sure fire way to spark kids’ attention. At the very least, the dramatic backdrop and scenery will provide a perfect setting for the ultimate teenage ‘selfie’.
Getting kids to try anything new can be tricky, but if you can get them sampling a few local dishes it’s a brilliant way of getting them to really connect with Greece. Mezes – small plates shared by the whole table – are a good place to start, as the children can watch and emulate you eating a little bit of everything. They don’t have to try anything they’re uncomfortable with but can pick and choose from the plates that they like the look of. Try to make some menu choices that don’t seem too alien to them. Many dishes can appear very familiar to things they might have tried and liked at home – kebabs perhaps, stuffed pittas and slow cooked meats.
There’s also nothing stopping you from starting the Greek food experience before you travel. I recently took my own kids and my ten year old niece to a local Greek Taverna where we enjoyed a meze and sampled a whole range of Greek dishes. My niece, Indigo, will try anything, a perfect student to a new cuisine! Indigo loved the various dips; Tzatziki, Melitzanosalata and Houmous – all mopped up messily with warmed-through pitta bread. Although the Taramasalata was tasted, it was subsequently swerved along with its fishy cousins; sardines in batter and calamari, which she tried but were ultimately incompatible with her taste buds. Various other dishes were enjoyed with much more success, including Souzoukakia, a savoury meatball cooked in red wine and tomato sauce, Halloumi and Loukanika, which is a type of all-meat wine sausage. We dug elbow deep into the Souvlaki and Greek Salad, which was dressed generously in soft white Feta cheese. Yum!
Religion in Greece
Religion is a big part of everyday life in Greece, and even if you’re not religious yourselves the whole family can take something away from the many wonderful churches and monasteries you’ll find here. There are also Saints’ day festivities all over Greece and its islands throughout the year. Watching the processions and joining in the celebrations is something all the family can get involved in. Easter is the biggest occasion of the year, no less than a week long! On the island of Corfu in the Old Town, pot smashing on Resurrection Day is a popular local tradition, as clay pots are dropped off red-decked balconies onto the street.
Among the fireworks, fasting and subsequent feasts are many other rituals. One particularly accessible as far as children are concerned is the cracking of eggs, called tsougrisma. Families gathered for dinner are given an egg that has been painted a deep red. Each person will take it in turn to crack the other person’s egg until a single winner remains. The hard shell of the egg is meant to represent the sealed tomb of Christ and the colour red used to depict the blood. The victor is then said to have good luck all year long, prompting long celebrations deep into the night with a banquet of food and drink, to the sound of Greek music.
Greek music and dance
While you’re eating out, you’ll find Greek music a real mood-setter. In fact music is everywhere and it makes for an authentic and memorable soundtrack to any holiday.
There is something magical about sitting in a taverna watching the sun go down, listening to the gentle strum of a ukulele. But for children it is after the sun has bade farewell that the real fun happens. The gentle strum turns into a melodic pulse and the humble bouzouki is joined by further instruments of musical exuberance. Dancing is compulsory and not for the faint hearted! Furniture is swept aside and a joyous nightly ritual of leg slapping, hand clapping and arm linking is enthusiastically encouraged. And if you are travelling with teenagers, the Greeks have devised a perfect teenage angst remedy – a good old session of plate smashing. While health and safety has taken over somewhat, you’ll still find places that use safer, plaster plates.
Younger kids needn’t miss out on the fun, as gentler flower throwing is a popular alternative.
Learn the Lingo
Swatting up on some Greek is a fun way to cope with any pre-holiday excitement and a great way for kids to really connect with Greece and its people. The locals are passionate about their culture and language, so any attempt at speaking it will be sure to be met with enthusiasm!
The beauty of Greece in these modern times is how the simple things still shine through and connect young people with the Greek way of life. Playing a boisterous game of backgammon in the village square, shouting ‘oba’ at dinner when the people next to you are at the table celebrating a family meal, being welcomed with the warm, famed local hospitality as one of their own… Each of these seemingly little things are what resounds, and what makes me realise there really is no place in the world quite like Greece, with a charm that adults and children alike will love.
Now you know how to keep the kids happy, why not look at our villas in Greece and start planning your next holiday?
Beautifully situated on a small headland, just on the outskirts of Spartia, villa Aeolus occupies a prime location boasting wonderful views across the sea to Zakynthos in the distance.