Greeks always live up to the phrase “go big or go home”! They love their family get togethers, traditions, delicious food, and Orthodox Christian rituals. Greeks (in Greece) don’t just decorate Christmas trees but boats too. In North America, they don’t just eat Turkey, they eat lamb, pork and more. Christmas traditions in Greece officially last for 14 days. Starting on Christmas Eve and ending on Epiphany (January 6) with the ‘Great Blessing of Water’. According to the Gregorian calendar, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on December 25. Greeks around the world attend Greek Orthodox church on Christmas Eve for a 2 hour liturgy. Christmas is not as major for Greeks as Orthodox Easter is.
When December arrives, Greek homes begin to be filled with the amazing aroma of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, honey, walnuts and more. Greek housewives compete to see who will bake the best Kourabiedes and Melomakarona Christmas cookies for the festive season.
Kourabiedes and Melomakarona Christmas Cookies
When December arrives, Greek homes begin to be filled with the amazing aroma of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, honey, walnuts and more. Greek housewives compete to see who will bake the best Kourabiedes and Melomakarona Christmas cookies for the holiday season. Greek housewives will send cookies to family and relatives homes along with other sweets. The main ingredients of melomakarona and kourabiedes are oil, honey, cinnamon, walnuts, cloves, egg, butter, orange zest which are Greece’s most famous food products. Even though today these honey cookies are connected with Christmas time, in ancient times Greeks would eat them as an everyday dessert. See Kourabiedes Cookies Recipe
‘Christopsomo’ Christ Bread
Christopsomo (Christ bread) is a round loaf that is a traditional Christmas tradition in Greece. Christopsomo dates back to the Ottoman era and is still part of the traditional festive meal that is a key element of Greek Christmas traditions. Though the decoration varies by location and is tailored to depict the lives and work of the homes, every Christopsomo has a dough cross in the centre, as well as almonds and nuts strewn on top to symbolise prosperity. The bread has the symbolic meaning of bringing a fruitful year to the household. Christopsomo is served on Christmas Eve night and Christmas Day.
Decorating a Boat in Greece
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees was first introduced to Greece in 1833. Bavarian Prince Otto, who was ruling the country at the time (1832-1862), decorated the first Christmas tree in his castle in Nafplio in the Peloponnese. According to historians, Christmas trees were only visible in upper class homes for the following few decades. The tradition only became universally popular after World War II. It was far more typical for Greek families to decorate a small boat before that. The illuminated boat represents a love and respect for the sea, as well as the expectation of reunion with seafaring relatives and bringing loved ones home, as Greece is a maritime nation.
The Big Fat Greek Christmas Dinner
Pork was traditionally the main course on the Greek Christmas table, and many Greek families still follow this tradition. Turkey first appeared in the late 19th century, when the upper class began to imitate French culinary trends. Cabbage leaf buns stuffed with pork and served with celery or spinach are popular in some areas. Like most customs, eating pork around Christmas has symbolic importance but is also strongly linked to the household’s economy. In many Greek villages, they use to draw a cross on the top of the door way with the pigs blood. Certain pieces of the pig were kept and consumed throughout the year and pig was sold to make money for families. Today, many Greeks in North America include lamb or roast beef to their Christmas table. Spanakopita, Tiropita, Greek village salad, dolmades, horta, and more are also on the Greek Christmas dinner table.
‘Kalanta’ Greek Christmas Carols
On Christmas Eve, doorbells start ringing as early as 7 a.m. in homes all around Greece. Children holding musical triangles wait for permission to begin singing traditional Christmas carols on the porch (kalanta). Greek Christmas carols begin with the storey of Christ’s birth, then move on to praise for the household and the people who live there, and finally, the children’s desire for a symbolic present. The lady of the house frequently gives the children a sweet treat like a melomakarono or kourabie cookie in addition to a generous cash tip.
Vasilopita, which translates to Saint Basil’s pie, is a traditional New Year’s Day dessert. Every Vasilopita has a coin hidden inside; the family head cuts the pie into pieces, and whoever discovers the coin is considered to have a prosperous year ahead of them. This practise stems from the legend that citizens of Cappadocia gathered money and jewellery to pay a tax to the region’s oppressive prefect. Saint Basil was able to persuade the prefect to relieve the locals from having to hand over their valuables. Because they didn’t know how to return the items to their respective owners, the villagers took Saint Basil’s suggestion and baked little pies. The jewellery and money were then miraculously placed into the pies, and each person received their personal valuables.
Epiphany ‘The Blessing of Water’
Epiphany (January 6), also known as Theophany or Ta Fota (meaning “lights”) in Greece, commemorates Saint John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus at the Jordan River. Priests perform the water blessing after the Divine Liturgy. A cross is thrown into the sea, river, or lake by priests, and a group of men dive into the water to retrieve it. It is stated that whoever finds the cross first will be blessed for a year and that the water is cleansed after the ceremony.