Christmas in Greece
Christmas Holidays and New Year's Eve in Greece
In Greece, Christmas, Easter and the assumption of the Virgin Mary are the most important religious celebrations in Greece. Many will agree that for the Greeks, Christmas is less significant than Easter with regard to religious celebrations. The measure of significance can be gauged by how many days during these religious festivals that the average Greek will go to church. During the Easter week this could be more then 3-4 times but between Christmas and New Year's Eve maybe once or twice, mostly for communion. However, the point of this article is not to analyse Christmas as a religious holiday but to see Christmas and New Year's Eve as a Greek holiday with its traditions.
The Greek Christmas has almost no difference from celebrations in the rest of the Christian world. Most importantly, like everywhere else, Christmas is the best holiday for the children. It means 2 weeks away from school, presents, sweets, Christmas tree and Carols (Kalanta or Kalanda) .Of course something we miss most in southern Greece is the white Christmas but the northern regions have no problem with that as many northern areas of Greece snowy winters every year. For the Greek mother or wife, Christmas is a very busy time in the kitchen. Almost one week before Christmas, in every Greek house, you can smell the cloves, cinnamon and baked almonds from the Kourambiedes and Melomakarona- the famous Greek Christmas cookies . Big trays with Kourambies, Melomakarona, Nuts, Oranges and Mandarins are part of the Christmas decoration of a Greek living room.
The decorated Christmas tree, artificial or natural, is in many houses many weeks before Xmas with Christmas lights, stars ,angels, and any kind of shining Christmas ornaments. Also, most Greek houses will decorate the exterior of their house with Christmas lights, deers, Carol singing Santas and the latest Xmas decorations. In Athens almost every balcony of the concrete jungle of Athens is decorated with small illuminated Christmas trees and singing Santa Clauses which are give a unique, if somewhat kitsch, atmosphere that Athens can have only during Christmas and New Year's Eve. All this can be more magical if Athens is covered with snow (something very rare and very short) .
Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration. From the crack of dawn, children all over Greece get ready for their Carols, equipped with their triangles they go all over the neighbourhoods singing the Kalanda, the Greek Christmas Carol, "Kalin Imera Arhontes an in o Orismos sas Hristou ti Theia Gennisi na Po sto Arhontiko sas" . This means "Good Morning Sovereigns if you allow me in your Mansion I will tell you about the Holy Birth of our Christ". After they finish their song people will give them some money and both sides will say the wish "Ke tou Hronou" (Next year again). It is truth that the most beautiful sound of Christmas is the sound of children singing accompanying themselves with their little triangles. On Xmas Eve many families, as in many western countries, will celebrate with friends with a big feast and, later on, will play board games.
Traditionally however, the majority will play the popular Christmas card game "Triantamia". In big towns many Greeks will spend the evening in restaurants, music clubs or hotels with live music and floor shows. On Christmas Day the Greek house will be busy with the dinner preparation. The main dish is roast turkey, stuffed with rice and chestnuts.
The holiday continues with the New Year's Eve celebrations, where the home gathering is the same as in Christmas only, this time, the main food will be mostly roast pork or lamb. On New Year's Eve the children will sing again but this time the New Year Carols "Arhiminia ki Arhihronia........Agios Vasilis erhete" (beginning of the month beginning of the year.....Saint Basil is coming). On this point I must mention that for the Greeks, Father Christmas is St. Basil of Caesarea or Agios Vasilios and not the western Santa from the North Pole. In both cases though the figures are the same: with red clothes and a long white beard and carrying presents for the children. On New Year's Eve the home entertainments concentrates mainly on card games. The reason probably for this is the so called Guri (Luck). Which means that if you win that night the new year will bring you luck. At 12 O'clock the lights will be switched off for a few seconds and every one will go out to light fireworks. If it happens that the town or the village has a port the sounds from the ships are amazing, especially in the Port of Piraeus where all the ships and ferries hoot their sirens while the whole sky of Athens is shining from multicoloured fireworks. Traditionally, as the New Year arrives the head of the house, usually the man, will step out of the door and smash a pomegranate for good luck and afterwards he will cut the "Vasilopita", the Greek New Year's cake.
In the Vasilopita cake from tradition the Greeks put a coin inside. Depending on your wealth it can be a gold sovereign or a simple coin. The one that finds it in his piece will be the new Year's lucky one.
The Christmas season ends on 6 of January with the celebration of Epiphany and the blessing of the waters. Traditionally during this day (Fota) the Christmas goblins "Kalikantzaroi" ,after having annoyed the mortals for 12 days, go back to the centre of the Earth, but that is another story we will tell in the near future on articles about Greek customs.
The Carols of Protohronia (New Year)