Christmas is just around the corner and is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. You have to get to know the customs and traditions of a country to be able to fully understand its people. It’s about time to learn a little bit more about the Christmas traditions in Greece. So, let’s have a look at the Christmas customs and traditions of Greece, most of which are of religious nature and others stem from paganism.
St. Nicholas is an important figure to the members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, as the patron saint of sailors and is celebrated on December 6. While in the rest of the world Father Christmas is St. Nicholas/Santa Claus, in Greece Aghios Vasilis or St. Basil is the one who brings presents to children on New Year’s Day.
Kalanta (Christmas Carols)
On Christmas Eve, in every village and city of Greece, small children and teens travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanta, the equivalent of Christmas carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little drums. The children are frequently rewarded with small amount of money and sweets.
Christmas cuisine and delicacies
Traditional culinary delights that characterize the Christmas season in Greece are melomakarona (honey cookies with nuts) and kourabiedes (sugar cookies with almonds) and the Christopsomo or ‘Christ bread’ (special decorated loaf of various shapes). After the traditional 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike and the table is filled with traditional dishes like lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit and served with various salads, vegetables and potatoes.
The Christmas tree is a Western custom that was adopted by the Greeks and each year steadily gains popularity as a new Christmas tradition. In the past, in order to honor St. Nicholas, every household used to decorate small wooden Christmas boats and until today, many choose to decorate boats, instead of trees, reviving this age-old Christmas tradition.
Kallikantzari (Mischievous spirits)
Emerging from the center of the earth, more mischievous and malicious than dangerous, are the sprites called Kallikantzari who prey upon people and pull various pranks during the twelve days of Christmas, between Christmas and Epiphany on January 6th. It was believed that all year long they saw the root of a huge trunk on which rests the foundations of the world and stop for the 12 days of Christmas to play tricks on the housewives. When they returned to the center of the earth to continue their ‘job’ after Christmas, they found out that the trunk was whole again. A Christmas miracle!
It is said that Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays for the Greeks. But that doesn’t mean that it is any less grand or majestic. It is the most wonderful time of the year and each and every unique Greek custom and tradition associated with Christmas makes it even more special!
Merry Christmas to all!