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Christmas Traditions in Greece

Christmas Traditions in Greece: Christmas is one of the most important religious celebrations in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Religiously it holds less significance than Easter but in terms of a family celebration it is probably the most important event of the year.  In Greece the Christmas holiday lasts over 12 days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany on January 6th   although presents are exchanged either on December 6th at the feast of St Nicolas or January 1st on St. Basil’s Day.

Christmas Preparations

Christmas traditions in Greece, like most countries revolves around the children who receive a two week holiday from school along with plenty of presents and sweets. Of course, Island Christmases are not white like they often are in Northern Greece, but they are still rooted in tradition. Orthodox Greeks fast for 40 days before Christmas. Today many modern Greeks adopt this practice for health reasons but strict Greeks cut out all food with animal products including. It is also a busy time for the matriarch of the family. A week before each house is cleaned from top to toe then filled with the aroma of cinnamon, cloves and baked almonds, key ingredients in the famous Greek Christmas biscuits known as Kourambiedes and Melomakarona. The biscuits are placed on large trays along with oranges, mandarins and nuts and form part of the Christmas display to be eaten when fasting ends on Christmas Eve. Christmas trees are erected and decorated weeks before Christmas. They are decorated with Christmas lights, shiny baubles, stars and angels and coloured lights hang from everybody’s balcony. The exterior of Greek homes are also decorated with lights and the latest in exterior decorations. One major decoration unique to Greece is the thin wooden bowl attached at the rim by a piece of wire holding a sprig of basil, which is wrapped around a small wooden crucifix. The bowl is filed with a little water and the mother of the family is responsible for dipping the basil and crucifix into the water then sprinkling it around each room of the house.

The Celebration

The main day of the Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve. Children across the islands prepare for carol singing. Children go from house to house singing the Greek Christmas carol called the the Kalanda, they hammer out the tune on a triangle.  The carol opens with the words, "Kalin Imera Arhontes an in o Orismos sas Hristou ti Theia Gennisi na Po sto Arhontiko sas," which means "Good Morning Sovereigns if you allow me in your Mansion I will tell you about the Holy Birth of our Christ". Each householder listens to the song and then gives the children money then both householder and children wish each other, "Ke tou Hronou," literally, “Next year again.” On Xmas Eve the whole family gathers together for a huge celebratory feast followed by board games or a card game called "Triantamia." In the cities many younger people go out to restaurants and night clubs. As well as celebrating Christmas, those Greeks with the names Christos, Christina and Chrysoula, celebrate their name days on Christmas Day and this calls for more celebration as friends and family call round to wish them a happy name day or in Greek, "hronia pola".

On Christmas Day the women prepare the main meal of roast turkey, stuffed with chestnuts and rice. Many years ago, people would raise a pig and slaughter it for the Christmas Day meal. They would also use every part of the animal to feed themselves throughout the winter. Today some islanders still serve pork as the main dish. Loaves of Christmas bread also adorn each table. They are known as Christopsomo and they consist of a round loaf, which is decorated on the top with a cross. In villages where people are fishermen they add dough shapes of fish, if they farm lambs instead they will decorate the bread with shapes of lambs.

Increased Commercialism

Christmas traditions in Greece, and the Greek Islands is much more commercialised than it was twenty years ago. Shop windows are decorated up to a month before as are the towns and streets and Santa Claus dressed in red and white is making more of an appearance.