Christmas was never regarded as a holiday in Greece compared to Easter though things have started changing slowly. Nowadays, what welcomes you are streets and towns that are lit up by decorations and lights. Though New Year is more important to Greek people compared to Christmas, Christmas celebrations in Greece extends to almost 12 days in which they decorate the Christmas table with Christmas tree and Christmas turkey. The advent period during the Christmas season is regarded important by the orthodox Christians and they take up a fast during the whole period with strict abstinence from meat, egg and dairy products. The origin of Christmas celebrations in Greece is traced back to St. Nicholas whom Greek people believe to be a patron saint of sailors and rescue drowning men from the sea. Mentioned below are some of the prominent Christmas customs and traditions associated with Christmas. Read through to familiarise with it.
Customs, Traditions & Celebrations
The Christmas celebrations in Greece last for a period of 12 days. There are traditions like decorating the Christmas-day table with turkey and Christmas tree. In Greece, people also decorate the windows of their shops and offices to enhance the festive mood. These decorations last till the 7 January, which is the day of St. John, the next day of Epiphany.
The Legend Of Mitra
However, on December 25, 354 A.D, Greek people celebrated the birth of their ancient god, Mitra who is known as the 'invincible sun god'. However, as centuries passed, the popularity of Jesus Christ took over the importance of the sun god.
On Christmas Eve, it is a tradition in Greece for small boys in villages to sing carols, going around from one house to another by beating drums and tinkling triangles. While they visit houses wishing 'kalanda' or good wishes, they are given almonds, dried figs, walnuts and sweets or coins in return.
Legend Of St. Nicholas
Greek people give great importance to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. Tradition says that his clothes are wet with salt water, his beard drips with water and his face perspiring as he was fighting hard against the waves to rescue the sinking ships. Greek tradition is that they never leave the port without any sign of St. Nicolas name on it.
In Greece, fasting would start 40 days prior to Christmas. Though it is more to do with a religious tradition, many people consider it as a healthy practise. During fasting, the observers do not eat any animal or other related products. During Christmas, people in Greece observe fasting and Christmas feast is something which is look forward to. Greek people would slaughter pigs with almost every house has tables decorated with loaves of 'Christopsomo'. Large crusts of this would be cut in varied shapes and decorated in a way which signifies the profession of the family.
Christmas trees are not common in Greece. The most prominent symbol of the Christmas season in Greece is a shallow wooden bowl where a piece of wire is suspended across the edge. From it, a sprig of basil is hung which is wrapped around a wooden cross. Each day, the elder member of the family dips the cross and basil into a holy water and sprinkles the water in each room in the house. The tradition is believed to keep the evil spirits away from the house.
There is another tradition known as kallikantzeri in which some naughty or mischievous goblins visit earth during the 12 days of Christmas. They are believed to emerge from the centre of the earth and sneak into each other's houses through chimney. These creatures are believed to do plenty of mischievous things such as extinguish fire, rice across people's back, braid horse's tail and sour the milk. To drive these spirits away, a hearth is kept burning whole day and night. Associated with this legend, a 'renewal of waters' take place, a ritual in which water jugs in the houses are emptied and refilled with St.Basil's water.
Exchange Of Gifts
In Greece, there are only few gift exchanges between one another. However, very few gifts are given to orphanages and hospitals. In most of the houses in Greek, an evergreen tree is decorated with tinsel and a star in kept on the top. Greek people exchange gifts on 1 January, St. Basil's day. On Christmas Eve, people gather around the Christmas table and figs which are dried on rooftops are served along with spicy golden Chrisopsomo bread. The table also have a Greek nut cookie, kourambiethes. People wish each other by saying 'Hronia polla' or 'many happy years'.
There are plenty of interesting traditions and customs associated with Christmas in Greece. Hope this article familiarises you with the varied Christmas traditions in Greece.
Greece celebrates Christmas with great enthusiasm. Read further to know more about the varied customs and traditions that is part of the Greek Christmas celebrations.