The Greek Christmas Tradition

Greek Carols

In Greece, there are many Christmas customs that are similar, yet slightly different from the West. Such as the custom on Christmas Eve where children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing 'kalanda', the equivalent of Christmas carols, starting early in the morning until noon hours. The children often accompany the songs using small metal triangles and little clay drums. Afterwards, the children are usually given sweets or coins in appreciation. There are three different carols in Greece, sung on Christmas Eve, on New Year’s Eve and the day before the Epiphany, which are less popular than the previous two. The carols feature different verses, although their common ground is the offer of blessings and wishes to the household.

Greek Christmas, the Greek Hristougenna
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In Greece, until a few decades ago, the Christmas tree was not among the traditional customs; people used to decorate a small wooden (even handmade sometimes) boat, which was incorporated to the Greek tradition because Greece is a nautical country and much related to the marine traditions. The Christmas tree became part of the Greek Tradition as Greeks adopted many Western customs and habits, among which the Tree (in 1833) and the colorful lights they put in their balconies or living rooms and windows in order to add a touch of festive mood and ambience for these holy days. Decorations last till January 7th, on the day of Saint John (Agios Ioannis), the next day of the Epiphany.

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New Year’s Eve, the Greek Protohronia

Greeks tend to exchange holiday gifts on New Year’s Eve; according to the tradition Santa Claus (Agios Vassilis) for the Greeks brings the gifts and leaves them below the tree for the kids. This is why the Greeks leave a plate full of sweets and other delicacies for Santa. Agios Vassilis is not the same person as Santa Claus though; Agios Vassilis comes from Caesarea not from Northern Europe.

Greek Recipes and Foods for Christmas
Holiday meals are a big part of the overall Christmas tradition; Greeks make their sweets first of all, because in many areas sweets are associated with happiness and hospitality. Preparation of Christmas sweets starts usually towards the second half of December, when the festive mood is much more evident.

The most common sweets are melomakarona and kourampiedes for Chr istmas and of course the sweet cake Vasilopita made for the New Year.


Vasilopita is cut on the first day of the New Year; a coin is hidden inside Vasilopita and whoever gets the piece with the coin will have a good year – and maybe a gift as well!

On Christmas day, during the family meal, Greeks usually eat roasted turkey with filling of chestnuts, pine seeds, meat and raisins. In some areas they also eat roasted piglet with baked potatoes, salads and soups. Lamb fricassee, a simpler dish, is also popular for the Christmas dinner.

Customs of the New Year
external image pomegranate400.jpgAlthough the most common New Year’s custom for the Greeks is Vassilopita with the coin, there are more customs for this important day. After midnight, when the New Year has come, Greeks break a pomegranate on the ground in the house (usually in a bag because the pomegranate juice and seeds make a mess), as this fruit is associated with luck and prosperity.
If people celebrate New Year's Eve outside their houses, when they come back they have to enter the house on the right foot, bec ause this is supposed to bring good luck to the household.
When the year changes at midnight, Greeks turn the lights off and turn them on again a few seconds later; this is a move that symbolizes the new beginning. They also open a bottle of champagne, which is a relatively new custom for that night.
On New Year’s Eve and first day, there is no particular food that has to be prepared, although the table should be rich and full – prosperity is always an issue for the coming year and a full dinner table is synonymous to good fortune and richness for the household.
In the mainland and Cyclades islands, Greeks prepare a plate with several goods, including fruits, honey, seeds (almonds and walnuts) and sweets and eat from it on the first day of the Year.

The End of Christmas Holidays and Celebrations
The Greek Christmas Holidays end with the Epiphany on Janu ary 6th. The Epiphany, known as Theofania or Fota, is associated with the blessing of the waters and can be quite spectacular in some towns. The first sanctification of the Epiphany (The Enlightenment) takes place in church on the eve of the holiday. Afterwards, the priest goes from house to house holding a cross and a basil branch. As he walks through each house, he uses the basil to sprinkle (bless) all the areas of the home.
external image 1060.jpgThe big sanctification, however, takes place the following day, January 6, where Greeks gather at ports, beaches, banks of rivers and lakes, or even fountains to sanctify the waters to bring them good trips in calm seas, health and prosperity. At the end of the sanctification ceremony a priest throws a cross into the water, thus blessing the waters. Then, those who dare - mostly the younger people of the village - jump in the usually icy water and compete in retrieving the cross. The one who brings the cross up to the surface will enjoy good luck and health for the entire year.


When the Good comes, the Evil has to leave and hide in the dark where it keeps living and grows based on its evilness. This is what happens with the Kalikantzaroi, the little black, hairy monsters that come up on earth a little before Christmas, but are forced to go down to the bowels of the Earth, before the sanctification on the Epiphany day. The legend of Kalikantzaroi is a very common legend in Greece, and these creatures are associated with everything evil and bad.
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Schools close on the 23rd of December and open again on the 8th of January!!!