Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Greek Christmas Traditions

Written by Kate Power
Even though Easter is a much bigger holiday than Christmas for Greeks, it’s still a great time of tradition, but with a twist. Greek Orthodox traditions mingle with familiar festive customs. Where some people decorate a Christmas Tree, lots of Greeks put model ships in their houses, and where gifts are presented on December 25th in some homes, Greek give gifts on New Year’s Eve.

Christmas Tree in Greece. Photo Credit Tilemahos Efthimiadis
After a couple of years living in Greece, here are some of the most famous that I’ve heard of:

The Christmas Goblin

I had never heard of these even in my first few years of living in Greece. The kallikantzari are mischievous elves who visit earth for 12 days over Christmas. Their aim is to disturb people; they come out at night to steal food or knock things over. However they are not too effective as far as mischief goes, because usually they can’t agree on anything, so their plans are left on the shelf. In the past, villagers wouldn’t leave their houses after nightfall for fear of running into one of the creatures. On Epiphany (January 6th), water is blessed and it forces them back underground.

Village Life

Each island and village has a custom of their own over Christmas, whether it’s something food related, like the christopsomo bread, baked on December 24thIn Crete, it’s made with sesame seeds, while in Corfu, it’s made with a crust that reflects the life of the family. In Tinos, a meal for men only is held on Christmas Day. The priest and men of the villages meet in friendship! 

In the north of Greece, a three day festival, a ragoutsaria that dates back to Dionyssian time, where revellers wear strange masks to keep away evil spirits. Plenty of the traditions in Greece at Christmas revolve around food! Apart from the christopsomo, you’ll also find melomakarona, a delicious biscuit dripping with honey and kourabiedes, a fresh butter cookie. For more savoury inclined guests, it’s a haven, with yiaprakia a stuffed cabbage, kalitsounia kritis a cheese pie made with soft myzithra cheese from Crete and roast pork (or sometimes turkey) is offered to break the fast on December 25th.

Christmas Biscuits in Greece. Photo Credit: avlxyz 
Christmas Tree vs Christmas Ship

One of my favourite traditions is the model ship, a karavaki, instead of a Christmas tree, (or in addition). As a seafaring country, not to mention all those beaches, Greece has a special relationship with water and instead of a tree, families often add a decorated ship to the festive decorations. 

The ship is decorated with lights and faces away from the door to mark the journey of returning sailors. On the islands, small boats are also decorated with lights in tribute.

Christmas Ship in Greece. Photo Credit Tilemahos Efthimiadis
New Year

New Year is arguably the bigger celebration in the Greek Calendar. Children finally get their hands on their presents. A pomegranate - a traditional symbol of good luck in Greece - is broken on the doorstep and silver pomegranates are presented as gifts. 

A traditional Vassilopita is shared amongst the family. A lucky coin or flouri is baked inside. Whoever finds it will have a blessed year ahead.

Epiphany

The 6th of January, the festival of light is marked in Greece by the sea. The priest goes to the nearest body of water and throws in a cross. Young men from the villages dive straight into the chilly waters and whoever finds it will have good luck for the rest of the year. 
    
                    Author's Bio      

Kate Power is from Ireland but is based in AthensGreece right now and is happily exploring her adopted country. As community manager and blogger for Purple Travel, she's had a lot of opportunity for writing about film inspired travel, where to eat and the great and good of Greece and Ireland. Connect with her on Google +.