A Greek Taste of… Christmas

greek christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And like with just about anything, if you add a taste of… Greece it’s always a tiny bit more special. Christmas in Greece is all about family, food, decorations and presents. Just like in the rest of the world. However, Greek Christmas could not help but have some unique characteristics that you can enjoy if you are lucky enough to find yourself spending Christmas in Greece.

Cities, towns and villages from Mytilini to Athens, from Chania to Xanthi, and from Sparti to Metsovo “wear” their Sunday best during Christmas and are decorated with lights and Christmas trees just like more or less everywhere else. However, Greeks have their own Christmas tradition that you can often find in an island, like Hydra or Kastelorizo, or a city that is by the beach or has a port, like Thessaloniki.In the past, Greeks used to decorate karavakia, instead of Christmas trees. Small boats, decorated with twinkle lights to keep the spirits of homesick sailors up and also to celebrate Saint Nicholas, the patron Saint of sailors as a small gesture that would help protect the sailors and make sure they come home safe for Christmas.

And while caroling is not a Greek tradition exclusively, Christmas Carols in Greece are extra special. The kalanda are performed even today mostly by young children, who walk around their towns and knock on people’s doors saying “Να τα πούμε;” (shall we sing?). The voices of children cover every Greek street and neighborhood on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, while they are supposed to help bring good health and luck in the New Year. The people on the receiving end of the singing, “οι νοικοκύρηδες” (the lords and ladies of a home) make sure they reward the children with some pocket change and sweets. The Greek LOL students honored their Greek roots last year and filled the world with their sweet voices singing the traditional Greek Christmas Carols. Enjoy them here.

And precisely because all our young students are on Santa’s Nice List, we need to make some clarifications about Santa Claus in Greece. The favorite Saint of Greek kids is Agios Vasilis. He is dressed in red and now has most of the habits of the globalized Santa Claus, but he is in fact a different Saint altogether. Saint Basil was known for caring for the weak, for building hospitals and hiding gold in cakes he gave to the poor. His feast day is on January 1st which is the day he visits Greek kids and leaves presents under their Christmas tree. We might leave some cookies and milk to help him regain his strength, but to truly honor him on his day we make and eat a Vasilopita. The Greek New Year cake that comes with a hidden coin inside. Whoever wins the coin is supposed to have a wonderfully prosperous year. This tradition usually ends in epic family fights.

As you can imagine, food takes front stage on Christmas in Greece. Christmas turkey is becoming more and more popular but the traditional main course depending on where in Greece you come from is usually roast pork or lamb. The Greek Christmas sweets, melomakarona and kourabiedes, are also great protagonists of the holidays. However, there is something edible that is the unexpected “king” of Christmas or rather New Year’s. The pomegranate is a very popular decoration during the holidays. This is because it is an ancient symbol of good fortune and health. Still to this day, in many villages, the householder breaks a pomergranate on the floor. This gesture means to spread the seeds everywhere and in this way bring good health and prosperity to the family.

No matter where in the world or how you celebrate, we hope you have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. Καλά Χριστούγεννα και Καλή Χρονιά!

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