“Observances”

This is the one of dozens of “paratirimata” (“contemplations”), as Cretans call the interpretation given to the various shapes that olive oil may take. In many regions, the shapes created when olive oil falls into the font where the child is to baptized lead to conclusions about what the child will become when it grows up. If a cross is formed, then everyone is pleased because the child will enter the clergy and may even become a lord. If the oil forms a drop, the child will be a miser. If it creates wavy patterns, the child will take the wrong path, while if the oil breaks into many drops, the child will be rich and generous.

What is particularly interesting is that, while this “olive tree culture” - as many rightly call it - may often be supported or fed by the supernatural or the inexplicable and oftentimes recreates practices of an almost idolatrous nature, it still survives in modern Mediterranean society. Despite tradition growing weaker and gradually giving way to rational and scientifically accepted notions, not only does this culture survive, but it also accompanies Mediterranean populations at all major events of their lives, such as birth, marriage, death, baptism and the struggle for survival:

  • Olive branches are still used to make wedding crowns on Crete.
  • When a boy is born, an olive wreath would be hung on the front door of the house.
  • Throughout Greece, the oil used during baptisms must be olive oil; it is spread on the body of the child and used to form a cross on its forehead so that it may receive divine blessing.
  • Benediction, the most characteristic ceremony of the Orthodox Christian church, is usually performed using basil, but also using olive branches, which the priest dips into the holy water, which is then sprayed onto the faithful.
  • On Cyprus, the New Year would be welcomed by hanging olive branches on the front door of people’s homes.
  • When a house was built in Greece, they would make a cross on the roof and decorate it with olive branches (a symbol of resilience and immortality that would transfer its properties onto the new home).

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