Plate breaking is something that I get asked about quite often; being Greek and a Greek performer. “Do you guys really break plates like that all the time?”
Since it’s so popular a query, I decided to do some additional research and write a blog post about it.
Death and Wealth:
So, how did it get started? There are theories that it came out of mourning events, as a way of dealing with loss. From the custom of “killing” the ceramics that were used in the feasts during that time of mourning. Others say it could have come out of a way of showing wealth- as in I am so wealthy that I will destroy these plates rather than wash them because I can buy new! Or perhaps it was just an ingenious marketing scheme put into place by those who sold the plates so that they were always in high demand.
Another version of this practice involved the separation of 2 lovers. Almost like our friendship broken heart necklaces here in the US, the lovers were each take a piece of the plate so that they would be able to match them up if they met again- in case they didn’t recognize each other.
Plate breaking has not gone completely from the Greek culture. It was used as a protest by activists to get the “Theassaloniki 7” released. They smashed the plates and sent the pieces to Greek embassies letting them know that they had been smashed in public and why. If this plea was the catalyst, not sure, but they were free the following week.
In the modern era, plate breaking had actually been banned by the government. In 1969 under the military dictatorship, it was banned. Although it is currently no longer allowed at most of the Greek nightclubs, it does happen on occasion. The practice of breaking them at nightclubs was not about making a mess but about showing kefi. a way of showing that a musician was experiencing an emotion, or from the audience, that you were experiencing the emotion being expressed in the song. Some people do purchase special plaster plates that break more easily and are less hazardous than breaking real plates. The variation on this is in tavernas, they sell trays of flowers that you can throw on an individual or singer. Smells nicer, less mess, and still a way for you to show appreciation to the artist (and for the businesses to make money!)
Mostly now you will see it in the more touristy areas because that is what people are looking for. It is not considered a part of the culture, but more hazardous than anything else. Is this because of overzealous tourists flinging plates? or intoxicated plate throwing? I am not sure.
I myself have purchased sugar glass plates to break at the end of a performance as it was requested and well, it was kind of fun! Fun knowing no one would get harmed. The flowers however, i have myself seen at several events, even here in the states.
This is just a small sampling of all the information that is available on plate breaking and it’s history. Please feel free to do even more research, to that end, I have included some of my references below!