Christmas (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 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. The Kallikantzari live deep down inside the earth and come to the 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 chimneys. They disappear on the day of the Epiphany when the waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.
Christmas Trees & Boats
The decoration of the Christmas tree was not originally a Greek tradition. It is said that the Bavarian King Otto decorated the first Christmas tree in 1883. Due to the fact that Greece had a sizeable maritime identity and they were known as a seafaring nation, wooden boats are also decorated to welcome the sailors home for Christmas. Today both boats and trees are as popular as each other and 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 Melomakarona (honey-soaked semolina cookies). Of course, this is all accompanied by a variety of good Greek wines!
Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the Eve of the Epiphany, you’ll find Greek children out caroling singing “the Kalanda.” They go from household to household, singing and playing musical instruments and beating triangles. Houses open their doors, listen to the Kalanda and offer the children small amounts of money.
New Year’s Celebrations
New Year’s eve is very much like Christmas eve. Families gather together to ring in the new year at 12 am. A light soup and various baked pies are offered accompanied by wine, brandy, whisky, and in Crete, Raki.
New Year’s Day morning is when Agios Vasilis (father Christmas) brings presents and fills children’s stockings. New year’s lunch is roast pig/lamb, veggies, and potatoes served with various salads and wine! To finish the celebrations, the head of the household cuts the Vasilopita. The person who finds the lucky coin in their piece of cake will have good luck for the year to come.
Happy New Year to all with Good Health & Happiness! Καλη Χρονια σε ολους με Γεια και Εφτυχια!