Ancient Greeks were proud of their athletic skills and held the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C. These games were originally part of a festival dedicated to the god Zeus, who was believed to reside on Mount Olympus. The games were banned towards the end of the 4th century A.D, when Christianity became the official religion. They were not held again until 1896, when the modern international games took place in Athens.

In ancient times, warfare stopped for the Olympic Games. The champion of the games was given an olive branch as a token of honour. A part of the wall of his home city was torn down, since it was believed that a city that gave birth to an Olympic champion did not need a wall to protect itself. Soccer is probably the most popular national sport; basketball became a national passion when Greece won the European championships in 1987. Volleyball is also becoming increasingly popular. Car racing is a favourite spectator sport. The Acropolis Rally draws thousands of people every year.

Water sports are important to the Greeks. Most children learn to swim at an early age and sailing and diving are popular. Greek children also play hide-and-seek, tag, and hopscotch. Other popular games for children include méla, which is similar to monkey in the middle, and triódio, which is a more complicated version of tic-tac-toe.

Greek people enjoy socializing in outdoor theatres, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs. A favourite pastime in cafes is távli (backgammon). The summer season is an exciting time for theatrical events, which take place in open-air theatres from June through September. On weekends and holidays, Greeks travel to visit friends and relatives in other parts of the country.

Music and dancing have been a vital part of Greek life since antiquity. There are hundreds of Greek dances. Some of the traditional ones are kalamatianós, tsámiko, sirtó, zembékiko, sirtáki, bálos and chasápiko.

Did you know?

The marathon race was born in Greece. In 490 B.C., a messenger called Pheidippides ran non-stop from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to bring the news of a Greek victory over the Persians, a distance of about 35 km. At the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, runners retraced his steps and this long-distance race is now a tradition at the Olympics and in many other countries.