CHRISTMAS IN GREECE!
Christmas celebrations in Greece officially last for 14 days, starting on Christmas Eve and ending on Epiphany (6 January) with the ‘Great Blessing of Water’. Following the Gregorian calendar, the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 25 December. However, as soon as December arrives, festivities begin: homes are decorated, and the smell of Christmas is in the air.
Traditional Greek Christmas Sweets
Melomakarona (honey cookies) and kourabiedes (sugar-coated butter cookies) are the most popular traditional Christmas deserts. Made solely of ingredients sourced locally, these scrumptious delicacies have been part of Greek tradition since antiquity. “The main ingredients of melomakarona and kourabiedes are oil, honey, oranges and nuts, which are Greece’s most famous food products.
On Christmas Eve, children often go around their neighbourhood to sing 'kalanda' (Christmas carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. If the children sing well, they might even receive small amounts of sweets or money for their performance from the houses they go to sing to - a great way to put some on the side for a present!
Traditionally in Greece, it was much more common for Greek households to decorate a small boat! Being a maritime nation, Greece has a long naval heritage and the illuminated boat symbolises a love and respect for the sea, as well as the anticipation of reuniting with seafaring relatives and welcoming loved ones home.
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. This tradition derives from the myth that residents of Cappadocia had collected money and jewellery to give to the area’s tyrannical prefect as a tax. Saint Basil managed to change the prefect’s mind and exempt local people from having to give away their valuables. Not knowing how to return the possessions to their rightful owners, the residents followed Saint Basil’s advice and made small pies. Saint Basil then put the jewellery and money inside the pies and miraculously each person received their own valuables.
The Blessing of Water (Epiphany)
Epiphany (January 6), called Theophany and colloquially 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.