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Having a Smashing Time in Greece

Why do Greeks break plates?


Plate of souvlaki won't break easily

The owners at Knossos' Nostalgia Cafe take no chances - their plates are metal.

Greeks smashing plates to accompany musicians is a mental image of Greece practically as common as the sight of the Parthenon. But if it were really as common in Greece as foreigners believe, there wouldn't be a saucer left intact in the entire country. How did this noisy custom get started?

Ancient Origins

In its earliest form, plate smashing may be a survival of the ancient custom of ritually "killing" the ceramic vessels used for feasts commemorating the dead. The voluntary breaking of plates, which is a type of controlled loss, may also have helped participants in dealing with the deaths of their loved ones, a loss which they could not control.

Similar offerings may also have been presented at other times to include the dead in festival proceedings, with the result that this custom for the dead began to be tied in with all kinds of celebrations.

Use them once, then throw them away
One also has to be suspicious of the ancient wandering potters who used to travel from village to village making their wares wherever the clay was good and there was enough wood to fire up a kiln. Could the first people to introduce the locals to this fun, exciting new custom have been the potters themselves? Could this custom of breaking plates at parties simply have its origins in a shrewd ancient marketing ploy?

Let's skip that house
Breaking plates can also be a symbol of anger, and the sound of shattering crockery is a classic part of domestic disturbances. Since plate breaking often occurs at happy occasions, it may have begun as a way of fooling malicious spirits into thinking that the event was a violent one instead of a celebration.

Worldwide, noise is believed to drive away evil, and the sound of the plates smashing against the stone or marble floors of Greek houses would be loud enough to scare off almost anything.

Step lively, children
There is a phrase used by children about sidewalk cracks - "Step on a crack or you'll break the Devil's dishes". In early Crete, ritual offerings and vessels were thrown into cracks and fissures located near peak sanctuaries. These "cracks" would certainly have had "dishes" in them, and later followers of Christianity may have demonized the old practice.

Since the children's chant is actually a caution to avoid stepping on cracks, it may refer back to ancient associations with these "dishes". So breaking plates during a performance may be a way of protecting the dancers and musicians by destroying supposedly evil influences present in the poor plates.

Break my heart, I'll break your plate - Go on to Page Two -

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