Christmas time in Greece

Ho ho ho!

Christmas is coming!

New Year is coming!

I thought I’d tell you a bit about Christmas in Greece

The primary tradition that has existed for thousands of years is that of the singing of Kalanda, which is quite similar to Christmas carols in other parts of the world. Kalanda is typically sung by children, as they go from house to house singing a number of carols while playing a plethora of instruments, such as triangles, drums, lyres, and guitars.Sometimes they will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.

Kalanda’s are also sung on the eve of both New Years and Epiphany.

Unlike many countries around the world, Greece tends to swap gifts on January 1, as opposed to December 25. This day is officially known as St. Basil’s Day. A day which honors Saint Basil the Great

During the twelve days of festivities, many natives in Greece tend to use the decorated bowl with the wooden cross as a means to keep Kalikantzaroi away. This tradition started due to the myth that spread throughout the country thousands of years ago that states that Kalikantzaroi, or goblins, appear only during the 12 days of Christmas, in which they travel through local chimneys and windows, spreading mischief wherever they go. The wooden bowl is customarily filled with water, after which the water is sprinkled in each room of the house in order to safeguard the home from the Killantzaroi. Fires also blaze for the entire 12 days, so as to best keep these creatures from entering the chimney. It is believed that they are finally banished on Epiphany, once the “renewal of waters” takes place.

The natives of Greece prepare for Christmas by fasting for 40 days, after which they dine on a large feast. On Christmas Day dishes prepared for these feasts are typically created using pork, lamb and sometimes stuffed turkey with a variety of appetizers and desserts to round out the meal.Other Christmas and new year foods include ‘Baklava‘ (a sweet pastry made of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey), Kataifi (a pastry made from a special form of shredded filo dough and flavored with nuts and cinnamon).Popular Christmas desserts are also melomakarono, egg or oblong shaped biscuit/cakes made from flour, olive oil, and honey and rolled in chopped walnuts and kourabiedes,Greek butter cookies with almond, covered in powdered sugar.

In Greek Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Kala Christougenna’

Vasilopita, another Greek tradition, is cut by families on New Year’s Day to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. This is usually done at midnight of New Year’s Eve in Greece. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. At midnight, the sign of the cross is etched with a knife across the cake. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. Slices are also cut for various symbolic people or groups, depending on local and family tradition. They may include the Lord, St. Basil and other saints or the poor, the household, etc. The variations of the recipes are countless.

In popular tradition, vasilopita is associated with a legend of Saint Basil. According to one story, St. Basil called on the citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the siege of the city. Each member of the city gave whatever they had in gold and jewelry. When the ransom was raised, the enemy was so embarrassed by the act of collective giving that he called off the siege without collecting payment. St. Basil was then tasked with returning the unpaid ransom, but had no way to know which items belonged to which family. So he baked all of the jewelry into loaves of bread and distributed the loaves to the city, and by a miracle each citizen received their exact share, as the legend goes.

What other Christmas traditions do you have with your family?

Share the spirit in the comment section!