Christmas and New Year’s Customs in Greece

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Christmas is the time of year that children love the most! But it’s not a feast only for the young but also for the grownups. Personally, I love Christmas. It’s the decoration, the warm feeling of the holidays, the sweets, the family that gathers around the festive table, and many more!

In Greece, we have many customs that we keep alive. Each village, island and district town, has its own customs or variation of the main customs. In this article, we will present the most widespread customs of Greece.

  1. Christmas tree

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The Christmas tree has its roots in the era of paganism where trees were worshipped. The custom stated that by bringing home a real tree, the owners will have a good harvest the next season. Until that time, there was no special lighting on the trees. The decorations were food, clothing and other useful items. Later on, there were only decorative items. As a symbol of Christmas, Christmas tree, proclaimed in 750 A.D., when Saint Boniface replaced the pagan sacredness of oak with fir. The custom of the decorated Christmas tree came to Greece in 1833 by the Bavarian King Otto.

Before the Christmas tree, we used to decorate (and we still do) a boat.

  1. Christmas Wreath

Wreath Christmas Christmas Fair Christmas Market

In the villages people tend to put, on the walls and doors, braids of garlic, on which they have nailed small cloves, in order to dismiss the aspersion and let only happiness enter in their homes.

In the front door of the house, you may find decorated wreaths with Christmas ornaments. According to tradition, the wreath brings luck to the house residents.

  1. Christmas Carol

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The name “Carol” is derived from the Latin word “Calenda” which means call. Groups of children (and not only children), wander from house to house  on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany Eve singing the carols. Members of the group hold a triangle and sometimes a harmonica or an accordion, while on the islands, they play violins and guitars. The aim of those who sing the carols is a tip or treat products (such as melomakarona or kourampiedes).

Carols differ from place to place. Their lyrics consist of wishes and chanted verses of praise for each “landlord of the house.” For each occasion, we have different carols.

Christmas Carol

New Year’s Carol

Epiphany Carol

  1. Christmas Sweets

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Of course, holiday without a bit of sweetness, is not a holiday. If you visit Greece on the Christmas Season, you will have the opportunity to taste some of the most loved sweets. I am talking of course about the tasteful Melomakarona, the white Kourampiedes and the crunchy Diples.

  1. Christopsomo – the Bread of Christmas

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The “Christ’s bread” is kneaded on Christmas Eve with special reverence. Indispensable ornament is the engraved cross.

On Christmas Day, the landlord of the house gets the Christmas bread, he crosses it with a knife and then he cuts and distributes a piece to all family members at the table. This action symbolizes the Holy Communion, where Christ gave the Bread to the whole human family.

  1. Agios Vasileios 

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The day of Saint Basil (New Year) we expect a humble and good Greek saint with black beard and dark poor cassock, coming from Caesarea in Cappadocia to bless our home and get his own piece of the cake made in his honor (vasilopita).

Santa Claus, the European “Father Christmas”, corresponds to St. Nicholas and for all countries (except Greece) visits the homes on Christmas Day. In Greece, the Saint Basil, comes on the 1st of January, the day of his nameday.

 

  1. The Welcoming of the New Year and the Vasilopita

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In New Year’s Eve, we are gathering, all the family, to dine together and welcome the New Year with songs, dances and “gambling” (We tend to play cards this night of the year, the famous Blackjack (or 21) for a good and lucky year).

At 11.59 P.M., seconds to midnight, we turn off the lights, we count down from 10 and we turn back the lights. We welcome the new year with hugs, kisses and wishes (such as: Chronia Polla and Happy New Year).

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The next thing, after the wishes, is the cut of the Vasilopita. Vasilopita is a cake that is made for Saint Basil. We are gathering around the festive table, and the landlord, crosses the cake with a knife and then he cuts the pieces. The first pieces are for the house, Christ and Saint Basil. Afterwards, the landlord, cuts pieces for all the family members that are around the table. This special cake has a secret, a coin (or flouri), that is hidden inside a piece. The person that finds the coin, is considered to have a very lucky year.

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You can find the recipe of the Vasilopita here.

Afterwards, the residents of the house, break a pomegranate on the front door. This custom has its roots in ancient Greece. Back then, they considered that the grains symbolize abundance, perhaps because of their quantity and fertility.Nowadays, we break the pomegranate for  good luck.

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  1. Epiphany

January the 6th, is a great annual Christian feast of remembrance of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The name arises from the manifestation of the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son and the Holy Spirit). The Basic ritual of Epiphany is the “blessing of the waters“. The priest throws the cross in the sea, river, or lake, in imitation of the Baptism of Christ. At the same time, young people, dive in the cold waters to reach for the Cross. The one person that gets in the Cross first, is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.

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First Image Source: goo.gl/LpmjxO

 

 

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