Each country has its own special Christmas traditions. In Greece, we pride ourselves in how special we can make this special time of year feel. We may rarely get a White Christmas, but as soon December comes around the
Christmas spirit is all around us. It may be the Christmas lights, the decorated trees, the children singing carols and the smell of the homemade treats. All of which make each Christmas wonderful, and unforgettable. It’s the
time where families come together from all parts of the country, the mainland or the islands for a few days full of joy, happiness, and love. It’s Christmas time!
By the end of November, each Greek home has decorated. A Christmas tree full of elegant ornaments and bright lights is the first sign of the holiday season. In the more traditional homes, Greeks still decorate small boats. Being a maritime nation, Greece has a long naval heritage and the illuminated boat symbolizes a love and respect for the sea, as well as the anticipation of reuniting with seafaring relatives and welcoming loved ones home.
As with each holday, traditional Greek desserts could be not missing from the holiday table. Melomakarona (honey cookies) and kourabiedes (sugar-coated butter cookies) are the most popular traditional Christmas treats. Made solely of ingredients sourced locally, these delicious delicacies have been part of Greek tradition since antiquity. The main ingredients of melomakarona and kourabiedes are olive oil, honey, oranges and nuts, which are Greece’s most famous food products. From a very young age, children gather around the fireplace and enjoy their Christmas dessert while they wait for Santa to arrive with their presents!
On Christmas Eve, doorbells in houses around the country start ringing from as early as 7 in the morning. Groups of kids holding musical triangles stand at the doorstep waiting for permission to begin singing traditional Christmas carols (kalanta). Greek Christmas carols start with the narration of Christ’s birth, continue with expressions of praise for the household and the people living in it and finish with the kids’ request for a symbolic gift.
The celebrations do not stop there! As soon as we welcome the New Year, it’s time for Vasilopita – translating to Saint Basil’s pie, is a traditional dessert made for New Year’s Day. Every Vasilopita contains a coin; the head of the family cuts the pie into pieces, and whoever finds the coin is said to be in store for a lucky year. The holiday season closes with the Epiphany (January 6). Theophany or Ta Phota (meaning ‘lights’) in Greece, is a feast day
celebrating the baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River by Saint John the Baptist. After the Divine Liturgy, priests carry out the water blessing. Priests throw a cross into the sea, river or lake and a group of men jump into the
water to recover it. It is said that the one to find the cross first will be blessed for the whole year and that, following the ceremony, the water is totally cleansed.