How Are Birthdays Celebrated In Greece? A Complete Guide

It’s no secret that every country celebrates birthdays differently. But what about Greece? How do Greeks celebrate birthdays? Is there a specific way to do it? In this blog post, I’ll give you a complete guide to how birthdays are celebrated in Greece. You’ll learn about the customs and traditions associated with birthday celebrations in Greece, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by some of the things you read!

Traditionally, Greeks don’t really celebrate their actual birthdays instead they celebrate Name Days!

So whether you’re from Greece or just want to learn more about the culture, read on for everything you need to know. Let’s get started!

Are Greek Birthdays different to USA or Western birthdays?

Yes, Greek Birthdays are different to birthdays celebrated in the USA in several ways. The most significant differences being:

Greek BirthdaysWestern Birthday
ImportanceNames Days celebrated on the feast of the saint you are named after are more important than Birthdays.In the west, any birthday can pretty much be special if you want it to be and you can have celebrations at any age, although there are some most people defer to for big occasions.
Significant BirthdaysCornerstone birthdays such as a 20th, 30th or 50th can be important.Most Western people place significance on certain birthdays, such as 1st, 13th, 16th, and 21st, and then each decade’s birthday like a 30th or 40th thereafter for example. But any and every birthday can be celebrated. Some people even celebrate half birthdays!
CakeCake for dessert sometimes with the celebrant’s name on it might be at a name day celebration. Ironically the tradition of the birthday cake came from Greece – read more about it in the article!In the west, you can’t call it a birthday party without a cake and candles. People go out of their way to ensure there is a cake to cut and for candles to be blown out.
FoodFilipinos love to celebrate birthdays because the food made is the family’s specialty and during special birthdays roast pig is served which is a favorite food for Filipinos.Party food which is usually processed and full of sugar is generally eaten at children’s birthday parties. Sometimes food is designed and created around a birthday party theme. Adult birthday parties can follow a similar cuisine, but many will offer a meal that includes the birthday person’s favorite food, followed by dessert.
Age on BirthdaySame with the west, every year when a baby is born, 1 year is added to his or her age.In the west, a baby is zero at the time they are born and each year on the anniversary of their birth they turn a year older.
Date of BirthdayGreek people celebrate their name day which is the feast day for the Christian Saint they are named after in the Greek Orthodox church, rather than the day they were born.Most westerner’s birthday is the day they were born. For some older people, the date might differ because the registration of births differed considerably from the past to today, and to save hassle they just go with what the paperwork states.
When to celebrateGreek people celebrate on the feast day of the saint they were named after, although in modern life celebrations can be deferred to the weekend for example. It is acceptable for people to give well wishes for a name day up to 40days after the day!In the west, if your birthday falls on a weekday, you might have a small family celebration that night, but your party might occur on the weekend or the best date around your birthday when you are able to get a venue or do an activity you were looking forward to. It is the birthday person’s choice, but generally, the day would be within a week or two of the actual birth date.
How old are you?It is normal for young people to ask and answer, but although it is not rude, people over 30 may choose not to respond or answer.Many Adult westerners find it impolite to be asked how old they are especially by strangers. It is generally ok to ask them around their birthday time especially if they are having a party and you are invited to celebrate with them. Parents on the other hand are always telling everyone all about their children and their ages – it is ok to discuss the ages of children.
GiftsGifts such as sweet boxes, flowers, cakes to share, or alcohol are acceptable gifts for name days.If you are invited to a party, it is obligatory to bring a card and a gift for the birthday person. The gift should be something you think the birthday person would like and if you are unsure – money or a gift card is also ok to give.
SongXronia Polla is sung at birthdays – take a look at the lyrics below in the article!The ‘Happy Birthday Song’ is traditionally sung after lighting candles on the birthday cake. The candles are then blown out after the song has finished by the birthday person who makes a personal secret wish when blowing them out.

Are Birthdays Important in the Greek Culture?

No Birthdays are not important in the Greek Culture. Instead, a person’s name day is as important as the day they were born and often more so.

However, western influence has definitely left its mark on the Greek culture so some Greek families do celebrate birthdays with cake and parties, but Typically, these celebrations are for children.

What are some Greek Birthday Traditions?

Greek birthday traditions are some of the most unique and interesting in the world, especially considering that celebrating a Name Day is more important or takes the place of a birthday celebration!


Because birth dates were never reliably recorded, older generations were never really sure of the year they were born and only had a vague idea.

Your Yiorti or Name Day as it is called in Greece was celebrated instead!

It has been a tradition in Greece for newborn children to be named after their grandparents, strengthening the value of a ‘name’.

The Greek Orthodox Church merged this tradition by adapting the practice to name children after Christian saints and ancestors – which was basically happening anyway, but the church just made the tradition more defined.

Name days are therefore commemorated on the feast day of the patron saint a Greek person is named after.

So if someone is named Mary or Marie or any other version of the name they celebrate their name day on August 15th, when the Dormition of the Virgin Mary is commemorated. This particular name day is a public holiday, and also occurs during the height of summer, so there’s no need to RSVP for a party!

Name Day is one reason you will find that Greece is known as being a country that has the least variety of names or why if you have been to Greece you will know several people with the same names.


It is not really spitting, but rather a ftou sound and spitting gesture said three times to ward off evil. But Ftou Ftou Ftou can also be given to compliment health, beauty or a baby or child for example on their birthday!

The idea is that this acts as a protective omen, keeping the child away from bad luck or the evil eye.

The evil eye belief, also known as vaskania, is a tradition that dates back to ancient Greece. The evil eye was believed to bring death and destruction, and is still a common belief in Greek culture.


No respectable Greek person would let a guest leave their home without having offered them a beverage or something to eat. This cultural custom flows through to the tradition on Name Day for the person whose birthday or name day it is, to be responsible for paying for the celebration or the Kerazma or philoxenia – the sweet and savory or hospitality provided on the day!

How do you Say Happy Birthday In Greek?

You wish a person Happy Birthday or Name Day by saying “Xronia Polla,” or “Polyxronos,” which translates to “May you have many years.”

The video below has a good variety of ways to say Happy Birthday in Greek!


Greeks take the number 40 seriously and apply it to things such as the time needed for mourning the death of a loved one, and preparing for a feast day, based on the story of when Jesus spent 10 days in the desert.

So if you forget to wish a Greek friend a Happy Name day on their birthday, it is totally acceptable to do so within the next 39 days!

Which Birthdays are the most special in Greece?

While Greeks celebrate their actual birthdays, less than in the United States for example, they still count the years they have been alive.

Therefore there are a few birthdays that are like cornerstones to Greek people such as a 20th, 30th or 50th birthday. Other years that have brought on significant change for a person may also be special and celebrated as such!

Do Greeks have Birthday Cake and candles?

Greeks do not have traditional birthday cakes at their Name Day celebrations. They may have a cake decorated with their name and sometimes even sparklers on them that is presented for dessert after the meal, but they are not a ‘birthday cake’.

However, Cakes and candles were reportedly invented by the Greeks as a tribute to Artemis, the goddess of the moon. These cakes were circular and filled with candles, which shone brightly like the moon.

As time passed, other cultures adopted the idea, of making cakes round and with candles on top.

In the original Greek tradition, however, the candles were not blown out. Instead, they believed the smoke from the candles carried their wishes and prayers to the gods.

It is believed that the tradition of lighting candles on cakes began in ancient Greece and spread throughout Europe through to the modern tradition of blowing out candles. When the industrial revolution took place, cake ingredients became cheaper, and cakes began being celebrated by families.

What food is eaten at Greek Birthday Parties?

The Greeks like to enjoy their food and drink with a good amount of ouzo or wine. Lamb is a key ingredient in the traditional Greek diet and Greek birthday parties typically include Greek salad and lamb souvlaki.

Other traditional food and drink items include dolmadakia, tiropita or cheesepie, keftedakia, moussaka and spoon sweets such as baklava and galaktoboureko.

Greek Salad

A traditional Greek salad is made up of sliced cucumbers and tomatoes, green bell peppers, red onions, olives, and feta Cheese.


Dolmades (or Dolmathes), are Greek dishes that use grape or vine leaves. They are stuffed with a tasty herb-y rice mixture and then rolled into small rolls. Other than rice, herbs, seasonings and seasonings, some dolmades recipes also contain minced meat (beef or pork).

Tiropita or Cheesepie

Tiropita is a savory Greek pie that’s wrapped in a phyllo crust, it is filled with a mixture of cheese and eggs.


keftedakia are greek meatballs. Traditional keftedes are usually made with ground beef and ground lamb.


Moussaka is layers of Aubergine (eggplant), Potato, and a minced beef dish that looks a bit like a lasagne or a shepherd’s pie.


Baklava is one of the most popular Greek desserts, and you can make it ahead of time. The baklava is typically made with nuts and honey and is accompanied by Ouzo.


Galaktoboureko is a dessert made from a semolina custard that is baked in filo pastry.

What Type of Birthday Gifts do Greek People Give

In the past, if you knew it was someone’s name day, it was an open house invitation for you to attend and give your well wishes!

Today however with the busyness of life, some people may choose to not have a big celebration during the week, may have a celebration on the weekend, or may decide to have a smaller affair, so it is important to know that an invitation is now usually needed to attend especially amongst the younger generations!

Therefore if you are invited you will need to bring a gift.

Some typical gifts Greek people give at birthdays and names days are:

  • box of sweets
  • flowers
  • a cake to be shared
  • wine or liquor

A more personal gift can be given if you know the person and their tastes well!

What Song Do Greek People Sing at birthday Parties

Greek people will sing the traditional Happy Birthday song at Birthday celebrations (not name day) but they also have a special song called Xronia Polla!

Χρόνια πολλά

Να ζήσεις _____ και χρόνια πολλά,
μεγάλος, -η να γίνεις με άσπρα μαλλιά.
Παντού να σκορπίζεις της γνώσης το φως
και όλοι να λένε να ένας/μία σοφός.

Happy Birthday (literally: many years)

May you live (name), and many years,
May you become old with white hair.
May you spread the light of knowledge everywhere
And may everyone say, here is a wise one.

Again this song should only be sung for birthday celebrations and not Name Day celebrations.

Important Takeaways about Greek Birthdays

  • Greek people celebrate Name Days more than their actual birthdays.
  • Greek parties are usually a gathering of everyone relatives and friends included, rather than having a party just for the kids.
  • On Name Days birthday cake with candles are not prepared and eaten, that is reserved for if a person chooses to celebrate their actual date of birth.
  • It is customary for the person whose birthday or name day it is to pay for their guest’s food and drink.

Birthdays or Name Days are a big deal in Greece so…

Whether you’re close with a Greek person or not, it’s always fun to learn about how another culture celebrates such an important day.

If you know someone who is having a birthday soon, be sure to wish them Xronia Polla (Happy Birthday) in Greek.

And if you want to take your celebrations up a notch, why not try cooking some traditional dishes for your next party?

We hope you enjoyed this guide to birthdays in Greece – happy celebrating!

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha Bellerose is the creator and main writer for The Birthday Party Website. She is a mother to four kids and she loves preparing and planning birthday parties for her family and friends. Samantha is also the writer, creator and owner of several other websites and has found a passion for sharing her knowledge and experience as an educator online!

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