Christmas Countdown ~ Christmas Traditions in Greece

The countdown to Christmas continues!
In this post, I thought I would look at Christmas traditions in Greece, as this is one of my favourite countires to visit.

Now, I have never visited Greece out of the summer season, but I have always been interested in their various traditions and how they celebrate special occasions/dates.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas or Nikolaos is often the heart of celebrations during the Christmas season. In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors, who helps to protect sailors during times of rough storms and the angry sea. The Christmas season starts on his saint day (6th December). Because of this, you can often observe sailing boats decorated with fairy lights during Christmas time. In Thessaloniki, there is a three-masted sailing ship in its famous Aristotelous Square, with fairy lights covering every part, alongside a Christmas tree. It is quite a popular tourist attraction.


Pic taken from Thessaloniki’s X-mas boat by Tilemahos Efthimiadis

Decorations:

Most people in Greece do have a Christmas tree decorated with tinsel, lights and a star on top, with the one in Syntagma square in Athens being one of the biggest in Europe.

However, there is an older tradition of having a wooden bowl with wire across the rim, from this wire hangs a small cross with basil wrapped around it. There is usually a little bit of water in the bowl to aid in keeping the basil fresh and alive. Dipping the cross and basil into Holy water once a day, sprinkling water around the various rooms of the house. This is to keep ‘Kallikantzaroi’ or bad spirits /gremlins away during the Christmas season (usually from 25th December until 6th January /Epiphany).

The ‘Kallikantzaroi’ apparently come out from the centre of the earth and cause mischief such as distinguishing fires and souring milk.
Another method of keeping these creatures away is to have fires lit for the twelve days, which is apparently to stop the gremlins from entering down the chimney.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve children will sing carols or ‘kalanda’ in the streets and house to house. They traditionally carry some form of instrument with them also, like drums or triangles. The children may be given money or small gifts by the people they have sung for. Singing Kalandas may also on New Year’s even and the eve of Epiphany is popular too.

Most Greeks who are Greek Orthodox will attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve / Christmas day. Following this mass, the churchgoers will end the advent fast with various foods known as the Advent feast. The fast is typically 40 days long. Food eaten at the feast and over the Christmas season is typically made up of various meat dishes such as pork or lamb, with pork being the traditional meat of choice. Turkey has apparently grown in popularity over the years. As well as the meat dishes there other baked goods to be consumed.

Baking

On Christmas eve ‘Christopsomo’ is typically made, which is to be then eaten on Christmas day. This is a sweet bread loaf, rounding size, flavoured with cinnamon, cloves and orange, and usually decorated with a cross on top.

Pic taken from Christopsomos by Emily Carlin

Two types of biscuit are made; ‘Melomakarona’ and ‘Kourabiedes’.
Melomakarona or otherwise known as Christmas cookies are usually made up of cinnamon, cloves and semolina and are covered in honey. Kourabiedes are typically fresh butter biscuits with rose water covered in icing or powdered sugar. These are traditionally made for New Year.

Pic taken from Kourabiedes by dwwebber
Pic taken from Melomakarona (Greek Xmas Sweets) by Alexander Baxevanis

For New Year, there is a cake ‘Vasilopita’ baked with a foil covered coin in it. The topping is usually almonds that spells out ‘New Year’. Cut by one person, who is crosses above the cake three times, and gives out the cake pieces; one for the house, Christ, The Virgin Mary and Saint Vasileios. Whoever gets the coin in their slice of cake is to have luck for the rest of the year.

New Year

Keeping on with the subject of New Year; throughout Greece, people hang pomegranates above the front door, which come New Year should have dried out. Thrown on the floor so that they break, and apparently, you enter the house with your right foot leading. This is to bring you good luck for the year to come.
January 1st is also the day of Saint Vasilis or Basil The Great, and Greeks typically exchange gifts on this day rather than December 25th.

Epiphany

Following on from this, Christmas celebrations come to an end on January 6th otherwise known as Epiphany. This celebrates Jesus was baptisism and is also known as ‘Blessings of the Water’. Throughout Greece, men gather around waters edges, like the sea, river or lakes and jump in to find the Cross in which a Priest has just blessed. The first one to find the cross will have good luck for the coming year.

Pic taken from Epiphany by Klearchos Kapoutsis

So there you have a bit of insight into how the Greeks celebrate Christmas, and the Christmas traditions in Greece.

Have you ever celebrated Christmas in another culture?

Please let me know if I am wrong in any of the information above. I have never celebrated Christmas in Greece and therefore a lot of this research has come from the internet.


**Please also note that none of the pictures used here are my own, but have been taken from free stock photo site or have been credited to the original owner.**

If you liked this Christmas Countdown post why not check out Places I would love to visit at Christmas.

As always, thanks for reading!

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