Christmas & New Year Traditions in Greece

Today we have a guest post from Maria, telling us about the Christmas traditions celebrated in Greece. Painting a wonderful picture of the Christmas holidays and the foods eaten over this festive period. Check out the Kourampiedes recipe she shared with us last week HERE! over to you Maria!!

Christmas & New Year Traditions in Greece...

Christmas holidays in Greece means that all the family can spend these days together celebrating with lots of food. On Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany, children sing carols. They go from house- to- house and store- to- store and, if they sing well, they are given money and/ or sweets. These carols believed to bless the houses and stores. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles or other smaller instruments.

Sometimes, they will also carry model boats decorated. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek islands (we have many!). In Greece, it is not traditional to decorate a tree, but a boat. Nowadays, people decorate both, normally by the end of November or early days of December.
Before Christmas, the believers are fasting for 40 days. While the fasting is for religious reasons, many considered this period to eat more healthy as well, as they are not consuming any animal or it’s derived products (e.g. meat, eggs, dairy).

As Christmas getting closer, preparations begin. Women are preparing the Christmas cookies, which will be eaten on Christmas Day when the fasting period ends. The main sweets of this period are kourampiedes and melomakarona. Both are delicious! Melomakarona are made with honey and kourampiedes with icing sugar. There are many different variations of those sweets, depending of which part of the country they are being made in. In the past, melomakarona were made exclusively for Christmas, and kourampiedes were made for the New Year. Nowadays, both cookies are prepared and consumed during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The traditional bread on Christmas day is Christopsomo (Christ Bread), which is made the previous day. It has a slightly sweet taste, and infused with orange, cloves and cinnamon. it's shape is round and the top is decorated from the dough with a byzantine cross. The main Christmas meal is pork and lamb, roasted in the oven with potatoes, side of salad and vegetables.

In the first minutes of the New Year we are having the Christmas cake. there are many variations (e.g. with icing sugar on top or chocolate) of the cake but all are containing some fruit (e.g. sultanas, lemons, orange, etc). inside the cake there is a cent coin, and whomever finds it has luck for the year. Usually the cake is accompanied with alcohol such as liqueur or cognac.

Gifts are exchanged on January 1st, on St.Basil's Day. the children should have behaved well during the whole year in order for St. Basil (Santa Claus) to leave them gifts under the Christmas tree. Also, a tradition we used to do is put some cognac or liqueur and Christmas cookies for St. Basil to eat before he leaves.

On January 6th, we are celebrating Epiphany (Blessing of the waters), here we are celebrating the baptism of Jesus. This day, the priests after the Holy Communion, go to peoples houses with a piece of basil and a cross. After a small prayer the priest dips the cross and basil into some holy water. Then a member of the house, normally the mother sprinkle this water in every room of the house. this ritual is believed to keep the Kallikantzarous (they are mischievous goblins) away from the house. they are appearing only this period of time and they are existing in various traditions depending on the region.

In many parts of Greece, where there are rivers or seas. people dive into the water to try to be the first to get the cross that has been blessed by the priest. The first one to get the cross, will have luck the whole year!

Maria Papagiannaki

Till next time, EAT mindfully, DRINK responsibly, and EXERCISE your mind and body!!!

***Disclaimer: Any of the information within this blog post and others on this site is for information and educational purposes only and is NOT intended to be taken as diagnosis, treatment, cure or  to prevent any disease. Any reader concerned about his or her health is advised to seek medical advice from their GP or relevant medical professional***