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Philoxenia: The Ancient Greek Concept Still Relevant Today

Greece, a land of breathtaking landscapes, ancient history, and vibrant culture, is renowned for its warmth and hospitality toward visitors. This cherished Greek virtue is encapsulated in the concept of "philoxenia," a term deeply ingrained in the nation's DNA. Some words, no matter how hard you try, are just not translatable (is translatable even a word? 🤪), though. The Greek word philoxenia roughly translates to 'love of the foreign,' but this translation does not do justice to the beauty surrounding the action of philoxenia. In fact, the true meaning of philoxenia is much deeper and permeates Greek culture no matter which corner of the country you're in.


Philoxenia embodies the concept of showing kindness and authentic hospitality to strangers. However, it isn't merely limited to the practice of extending a warm and friendly reception to guests and visitors. To be more specific, it transcends mere "practice." It constitutes a set of enduring values rooted deeply in history, stemming from antiquity and influenced by myths, historical events, and religious convictions. The word has roots as far back as Homer's Iliad and the concept is widely mentioned in the Bible, praising the act of showing others hospitality as a virtue. This act emphasizes the importance of welcoming strangers, showing genuine kindness, and practicing hospitality so that others always feel welcomed and supported.


Growing up, philoxenia was the norm in my small Greek Orthodox church community. The concept was passed down from first-generation immigrants and played a special role within families. In fact, when I moved across the state to attend college, it was through my church community and philoxenia that I was connected with a Greek-American family local to the city I was studying in. This family welcomed me into theirs and treated me as though I was one of their own, driving me to and from church, including me in family holidays, calling me to check up on me, and always maintaining contact with me to see if I needed a ride to the grocery store or a home-cooked meal. This family remains near and dear to me heart even today - I'll never be able to repay them for the love they showed to me during that time period in my life. For me, their actions embodied philoxenia, and I hope to be able to pay it forward one day and show this love to someone else the way they showed such love to me.


There is something special about the philoxenia one can be a exposed to in Greece. Whether it's people helping you navigate or recommending you a local restaurant, it's common in Greece for locals to show generosity to strangers and those in need. It is not an uncommon practice for Greek people to bring gifts to visitors to their village, including fresh produce, herbs, olive oil, or a homemade dish. When out to dinner in Greece, you may be surprised on occasion when you receive a dessert, completely free of charge, after finishing a meal. I've never travelled to another country where I've experienced this before. The Greek passion for philoxenia is intertwined with cultural practices and events. Celebrations like "panigiria," which involve music, dance, and food, are marked by open invitations to all, embracing everyone who wishes to join in the festivities. If you've ever attended a Greek wedding, you have surely seen the traditional folk dancing and, chances are, you've been encouraged to jump in and start dancing whether you know the dance steps or not. Furthermore, philoxenia often times finds its way into religious customs. During Easter, for instance, people exchange greetings of "Christos Anesti" (Christ has risen) and offer food and hospitality to family, friends, and even strangers.


Philoxenia even ties in to the Greek tourism industry. Many of the principles of philoxenia have made their way into business practices that are common around the world for companies with a reputation for being hospitable. It's for these reasons that so many people travel to Greece and make memories that last a lifetime. It's for these reasons that so many people return to the country time and time again, and it's for this reason that the Greek tourism industry has been successful for decades.


When I went to visit my best friend's family's island, Ithaki or "Ithaca", for the first time, her family and their friends treated me like family, always inviting both of us out to events and for company and making sure we were fed well and taken care of. There wasn't a day that went by where I didn't feel included or like I didn't have anyone there to rely on - despite this being my first time visiting.


I will always be grateful for the times when I was welcomed with open arms, included, and genuinely showed philoxenia. I look forward to continuing to make this practice a part of my life because I truly believe that with more philoxenia, our world would be a better place for everyone. The concept of philoxenia transcends Greek borders. In a world that can often feel divided and polarized, embracing the stranger with open arms is a universal message of hope, acceptance, and unity. Philoxenia reminds us that we are all connected by our shared humanity and that we can find common ground through love, respect, and a warm welcome. The Greek concept of philoxenia is not just a cultural quirk; it's a guiding principle that shapes the nation's identity and resonates with people worldwide. It teaches us the power of love, hospitality, and human connection in an increasingly interconnected world. In Greece, philoxenia is more than a tradition—it's a legacy, a way of life, and a gift to the world.



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