Breaking dinnerware at a celebratory gathering as a traditional ritual can be considered a dying tradition like many other old superstitions. While the majority of the populace might not have observed this practice, most are familiar with the practice through film and television dramas. However, as observers from outside, the reason behind the practice is often unknown. Therefore, it leads people to wonder about the questions like “who breaks dinnerware at family gatherings?” or “what is the reasoning behind the practice?”
Origin of the tradition
From a historical perspective, it was a Greek wedding tradition dating back to the middle ages. There are also some cultures that use the practice to mourn the passing of dear relatives. While the tradition might have been a popular ritual in the past, there are few families who still follow this tradition in the current society. While there has been much such tradition which faded into obscurity, the bizarre nature of this tradition has led to numerous renditions of the practice in popular media which is the main reason behind people remembering this practice. The development of the society in the middle ages was based on wealth and nobility and ostentatious displays of wealth were common to practise among the nobility and wealthy citizenry. While there is little historical support behind this justification of the practice, logic dictates that the reasoning to be plausible reasons as the ceramic and glass dinnerware were a symbol of wealth in middle age and it was impossible for a commoner to own even one set of such items in the household. Therefore, the breaking of dinnerware in the gatherings could be considered a clear display of wealth from a practical perspective as destroying an item so highly valued by the people indicates overabundance for the families practising such traditions.
While the economic reasons behind the practice can be explained easily, it is impossible to use this factor as acceptable reasoning behind the practice from a social perspective. There are many symbolic factors behind the practice that are often contradictory. In the Greek myths, the spirit of a dead person does not leave the body until three days after burial. At his point, the family of the deceased visit the grave and take part in the ceremony where the priest blesses a plate of koliva and breaks the plate on the tombstone after scattering the blessed food to the wind. The reasoning for this is based on symbolism where the breaking of a plate is considered a loss resembling the loss of a loved family member which is very similar to ritualistic sacrifices in other cultures. This helps the participants grieve and display their feeling of loss. The extravagant funerals are often a sign of the status of the dead person and his family which is aligned with the previous logic explaining the practice. This practise was common in the Greek funerary rites and has the oldest record of the ritualistic breaking of dinnerware which was later adopted in the other social occasions.
Currently, many of the people only know about the breaking of dinnerware at Greek weddings which has been displayed numerous times in popular media. However, the historical record shows that the practice related to funerary rites was much older. Therefore, it can be assumed that the source of the tradition lies in the funerary rites. The reasoning behind breaking dinnerware in celebratory occasions, specifically weddings, is derived from the same concept. The breaking of dinnerware at happy occasions is supposed to deceive the evil spirits that might be interested in spreading malice on the happy occasions. The breaking of plates is supposed to identify the domestic disturbances so as not to attract the attention of such evil spirits. Therefore, the ritual in weddings seems to be based on protecting the happiness of the newlywed couple (Alexiou, 2002). However, this practice is rarely seen in modern times as this is considered an unnecessary waste and the potential dangers. It is only practised on occasions to attract tourists learning about foreign traditions and thus lost its cultural significance in modern times.
The plate throwing is often done by tourists in the various exhibition performances for tourists to applaud the efforts of the musicians and dancers. The reasoning for this practice or kefi is the same as the wedding which is to aver the evil spirits which might bring bad luck to the performers. This is also a matter of interest as the danger to the performers can be high as the intoxicated tourist’s poor aim can affect the safety of the bystanders as well as performers. The establishments that allow tourists to participate in this activity are required to have a licence from civil authorities which is used to ensure the safety standards and control the potential danger. While there are few establishments still practising this ritual as a tourist attraction, most have replaced this with flowers which are far less dangerous and easier to clean up.
Modern takes on the old tradition
While the tradition might have become well-known due to the novelty and bizarre nature, in the current society this is seen as a wasteful and dangerous making it a dead tradition form a social perspective which is only seen in exhibition performances or tourist attractions. The cultural significance of the tradition might be lost in modern times but this tradition remains as a way of attracting attention. In roadside traditional cuisine restaurants in Athens, there are often plate smashers stationed in the doorways who throw plates to attract the tourists. Recently, protesters used the breaking plates to signify their hunger strike where the shards were sent to the embassy as a protest.
Therefore, the practice of smashing dinnerware might have started as a superstition; modern practices have evolved to represent different things which are based on the current social beliefs. The tradition has been abandoned by the general populace due to its danger and messy nature and only remains as a symbolic gesture and expensive noisemaker losing its origins mired in the superstitions of middle age.