Christmas time, days of joy, and celebration. Houses and cities wear their festive clothes, acquiring light and color, while the kitchens are flooded with aromas of traditional dishes and Christmas cookies.
Happy Christmas” and “Happy New Year” resonate at every meeting point, while the sounds of children’s triangles and carols vibrate the atmosphere with happy notes. A Christmas tradition that started years ago.
With dozens of customs, which marry the Greek Christmas traditions with the ancient Greek customs, the inhabitants of the country celebrate one of the most important religious holidays, a few days before the arrival of the new year. In fact, many of these customs reflect the anxieties of rural people, farmers, and ranchers.
Lots of them come from Minor Asia, even during the Byzantine time. Like, Saint Basil, the Greek Santa Clauss, as he was offering gifts to children. It is celebrated on January 1st, on that day Greeks serve Vasilopita and exchange gifts.
Vasilopita is a cake that Greeks eat on New year’s eve, when they split it they say, the first piece goes to Jesus Christ, the second one to Virgin Mary, and the third one to the house. The rest pieces go to the family, the person who will find the hidden coin inside, he will have luck for the rest of the year. Other sweets that are popular during Christmas time is Kourabiedes and Melomakarona.
Other Greek Christmas traditions are:
It is one of the most important celebrations of Orthodox church, at January 6, the holiday season is over. After the liturgy, the priest is throwing to water the cross and people are trying to catch it in the cold sea. In Greek, it is called Theophania and means: A vision of God.
Christmas Bread or Christopsomo
The “bread of Christ” is kneaded on Christmas Eve with great reverence. An essential ornament is the engraved cross.
On Christmas day the householder takes the Christmas bread, crosses it, cuts it, and distributes it to all those present at the table, as a symbol of Holy Communion, where Christ gave the Bread to all his human family.
In the villages, they usually hang garlic braids on the walls and the front doors, on which they nail carnations to chase away the bad language that “nails” the happiness of their home.
The front door of the houses is also decorated with a wreath of fir, decorated with Christmas decorations. According to tradition, the wreath brings good luck to the occupants of the house.
Breaking the pomegranate
On New Year’s morning, the family goes to church and the householder keeps a pomegranate in his pocket to operate it. On the way home, he has to ring the front doorbell – he does not open it himself with his key – and thus be the first to enter the house, to make a good leg, with the pomegranate in hand.
Entering, with the right, he breaks the pomegranate behind the front door, that is, he throws it down with force, to break and throw his nipples everywhere and at the same time he says: “with health, happiness and joy the new year and as many nipples as there are the pomegranate, to have so many pounds in our pocket all year round “.
The children have gathered around and look at the nipples if they are crisp and crimson. The stronger and more beautiful the nipples, the happier and blessed will be the days that the new year brings with it.
Greek Christmas boat
The ship symbolizes the new voyage of man in life, after the birth of Christ. The children of the sailors who stayed behind made their own toys, which were usually boats. The boat symbolized the children’s anticipation for a reunion with their relatives, but also their love for the sea. Gradually, the custom of decorating it was established, but due to the fact that it was associated with unpleasant memories, it could not be established as a festive symbol.
The Greek Christmas trees
In many villages of Macedonia, from Christmas Eve the householder searches the fields and finds a large thick and strong wood of pine or olive and takes it home.
The housewife makes sure that the house has been cleaned and with special care the fireplace, so that not a trace of the old ashes is left. They even clean the chimney, so that they do not find pressure to get down the goblins, the evil demons as they say, and cook the house.
On the night of the stay, the householder puts the Christmas tree in the fireplace and lights it, leaving it to burn silently throughout the twelve days from Christmas until the Lights. This ash protects the house and the fields from any evil and as it burns it warms Christ in the manger.
The feeding of the fountain
The girls in Thessaly, at Christmas dawn, elsewhere on New Year’s Eve, go to the nearest fountain “to steal the endless water” (endless, that is, unspoken, because they do not utter a word all the way). They smear the fountains of the village with butter and honey, with the wish that the water runs and the prelude to the house in the new year and their life be sweet. To have a good crop, when they get there, they “feed” it, with various delicacies, such as butter, bread, cheese, legumes, or an olive branch. Whichever went to the tap first, she would be the luckiest all year. Then they throw in the pitcher a raspberry leaf and three pebbles, “steal water” and return to their homes again speechless until everyone drinks from the endless water. They sprinkle the same water on all four corners of the house while scattering all three pebbles in the house.
The cave of Ai Gianni in Kissamos
In the cave of Ai-Giannis in Marathokefala on Christmas Eve, a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy is celebrated. The representation of the manger where Christos was born with sheep, shepherds bonfires, and the star shining at the top of the cave give a special color. In the past, from Christmas Eve, farmers, shepherds, and sailors used to say “how the times fight, and the winds who will be born and who will be baptized”. Whoever is born, whoever prevails and emerges victorious on Christmas day, he will prevail up to the Lights and the whole new year. In the past, on Christmas Eve, housewives would cut branches and shoots and take them home. They put them in a glass of water and waited for them to bloom.
The marriage of fire
In the villages of Edessa on Christmas Eve they “marry the fire”. They take a tree from a tree with a female name, such as cherry, and one with a male name, usually from thorny trees, such as the bush. They put the wood in the fireplace to burn and depending on their click or flame they can predict the future, either for the weather or for their harvest. Tradition has it that thorny trees repel demonic beings, like goblins.
In Thessaly, when the girls return from the church on Christmas day, they put cedar branches by the fireplace, while the boys put wild cherries. These slender branches represent their desires for a beautiful life. Whichever branch burns first is a good sign, because this young man or woman will get married first.
The custom comes from Pontian refugees and its name comes from the words mimos or momos and geros. Its protagonists wear animal skins and masks, while the special interest of an event is when different groups of moms and women meet who have to fight in a battle where the best will win and the loser will declare submission.
In Pella, the custom of “Kolinda Babo” is revived even today. Residents of the area on the night of December 23 light fires, shouting “Kolinda Babo” which means “slaughter, grandmother.” This is a custom that represents the slaughter of male infants by Herod. Thus the fire informs the inhabitants to beware not only of King Herod but also of the evils that the new year may hold.
In each house, two or three days before loaves of bread are kneaded. One, which they eat on Christmas day, is the bread of Christ and they shape it into a cross made of dough, while the rest are made with almonds and walnuts.
The slaughter of the pig in Thessaly
The slaughter of the pig, which is bred for this purpose, is performed as a ritual in every family.
The pig is slaughtered by the men of the house on Christmas Eve. Family members exchange wishes with each other. Pork is the main food at the Christmas meal and they also make sausages from the pig, which they hang until dry.