Christmas or (Xristouyenna- Christouyenna) meaning “the birth of Christ” is one of the most important celebrations within the Greek Orthodox church. Traditions vary depending on which region or Island one is from. Here are a few of the popular traditions celebrated for Christmas in Greece as reported by Greece Country Manager Sam Pinakoulaki:
During the 12-day period from Christmas day until the Epiphany it is said that hobgoblins called “kallikántzari”, (friendly but troublesome little creatures which look like elves.) visit households. Kallikantzari live deep down inside the earth and come to surface only during this time slipping down chimneys and playing pranks on people.
Throughout Greece, there are various customs and rituals performed to keep these elves away. Fireplaces are kept alight to prevent them from entering the houses through the chimneys .Kallikantzari disappear on the day of Epiphany when the waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.
Kalikantzari – the goblin signifying Christmas in Greece
The decoration of the Christmas tree was not originally a Greek tradition. It is said that the first Christmas tree was decorated by the Bavarian King Otto in 1883.
Christmas in Greece – a highly decorated boat signifies the importance of shipping.
Due to the fact that Greece had a large maritime identity and they were known as a seafaring nation wooden boats were decorated welcoming the sailor’s home for Christmas. Today either boats or trees are decorated.
On Christmas Day, tables are set with foods that have become tradition, passed from generation to generation. Pork or Lamb roasts served with potatoes and vegetables are a popular main course followed by the traditional “Kourabiethes” (almond cookies coated with icing sugar) and Melamakarona (honey soaked semolina cookies).Of course this is all accompanied by a good Greek wine!
Melamakarona are a dinner staple for Christmas in Greece.
Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and the Eve of the Epiphany you will find Greek children out caroling singing “the Kalanda”. They go from house hold to household singing and banging small musical triangles.