Christmas Eve in Greece is observed on the same day as in the US; on the 24th of December, and Christmas the next day.
But that may be where the similarities end between the two nations.
While celebrations may commence on the 24th of December and continue on for the 25th, the actual act of exchanging gifts is not until the 6th of January; or Saint Basil’s Day.
On Christmas eve, boys and girls go around the cityscape singing Christmas carols, while playing drums and musical triangles.
It is a very old custom in the Greek Islands to carry model boats around decorated with nuts and seeds while caroling, and these are generally painted gold.
In Greek Happy/Merry Christmas is ‘Kala Christougenna’. It is interesting to know how people wish Happy or Merry Christmas in other languages.
Keeping the Spirits Away
A very old and spiritual tradition around Christmas time in Greece is to take a shallow wooden bowl with a thin piece of wire connecting one side of the bowl to the other.
Then you take a basil sprig and wrap it around a wooden cross; suspending this basic cross from the wire.
Some water is kept in the bottom of the bowl to keep the basil looking and smelling fresh.
The woman of the house will generally dip the basil cross into some holy water to sprinkle it around the home once a day; this is believed to keep the negative spirits that would wish harm to your home away.
These spirits, that are referred to as “Kallikantzaroi” only appear during the 12-day period of time from Christmas to January 6th. Similar to Santa Clause, these spirits have been known to enter the heart of your home through the chimney and steal your milk.
Having a fire always lit during these 12 days is said to keep these spirits at bay, and keep your home safe.
Every December, the city square of Thessaloniki erects a large Christmas tree and a 3-mast sailboat made out of lights; it’s a popular tourist attraction.
Due to the fact that Greece is a nation surrounded by water, ships are a symbolic object for them.
Many cities have large boat displays this time of year to symbolize sailors having a safe journey and returning home.
Similar to other regions of the world, Christmas trees are a popular attraction in Greece.
The tradition of decorating trees was first done by King Otto in 1833 and was set up next to the large decorated boat in the town square.
Over time, decorating trees became more popular in Greece than even decorating boats; however, to this day, most cities and homes hold both traditions by decorating both.
Midnight Mass and Food
Attending Midnight Mass is a very important tradition for the people of Greece.
After this service, they can go home and end their Advent fast.
The main meal served at Christmas in Greece generally consists of lamb or pork, slow-roasted over a spit; either in an oven or over an open flame.
It is served with various salads and vegetables but usually includes a spinach and cheese pie. Other Christmas foods include Baklava, Kataifi, and Theeples.
These are either eaten as a breakfast type food or are served as starters for the main meal.
Traditionally, table decorations are bead loaves of ‘Chrstopsomo’ or Christ’s Bread. While this bread will be the centerpiece of any table, there are other decorations placed around as well, and it usually is up to the household on what is placed around the bread.
It is a circular type of sweet bread that has orange, cloves, and cinnamon, and the top is decorated with a cross.
This bread is usually prepared on Christmas Eve and consumed on Christmas day.
Saint Basil’s Day and Epiphany
After Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and the celebrations on Christmas day, presents are brought to children by ‘Aghios Vassilis”, or saint Basil, on January 1st; this day is recognized as Saint Basil’s Day.
On January 6th, the peoples of Greece also celebrate Epiphany, which celebrates Jesus’s baptism.
Also referred to as ‘The Blessing of Water’, many regions throughout the country celebrate this sacred day by having young men dive into very cold lakes and other bodies of water; in order to be the first one to receive a blessed cross that has been tossed into the water by a priest.
Whoever finds and receives this cross is said to receive good luck during the year. Epiphany is also celebrated by blessings of boats, music, dancing, and feasts.
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Main Points About Christmas in Greece
- Christmas in Greece is not just about exchanging gifts, it is a religious holiday. Every Grecian is fully aware of the reason for the celebration.
- Christmas trees and other Christmas decorations are very popular in Greece. During the festive season, the streets are usually lit up with beautiful decorations.
- On Christmas eve, children, especially boys go from house to singing and playing drums.
- During the 12-day period before the Epiphany, it is believed that bad spirits can come into the house, especially through the chimney. Hence, a yule log is kept burning for a 12-day duration.
- The midnight mass is important at Christmas for many Grecians. They attend with families and loved ones, after which a celebration ensues.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Christmas in Greece
Apart from the Christmas tree, many Greek households also decorate a small boat from their heritage from when households couldn’t afford a Christmas tree and would decorate a small boat instead – as a symbol of their love for the sea.
If you have been to Greece on Christmas or stay in Greece then do share your first-hand experience in the comments below.
Word Cloud for Christmas in Greece
The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on Christmas in Greece. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.
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