Christmas is one of the major holidays that are celebrated in Greece and amongst people of Greek origin throughout the world. This is a time that is filled with moments to spend with loved ones, church services, and plenty of unique traditions. There are also some special food traditions that are associated with Christmas.
Here is a roundup of some of the Greek Christmas traditions that you can enjoy, no matter where in the world you are:
Christmas Eve Service
Most Greek people are Orthodox Christians. In this tradition, Christmas Eve services are formally known as the Eve of Nativity celebration. During this special gathering, numerous Biblical verses are cited and hymns are sung. Each of the elements of the service are designed to announce Christ’s brith.
Some of the elements include the Hours, which summarise the themes of Christmas, the Vespers, which include Bible verses that announces Christ’s arrival into the world, and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. There are also some special hymns that are sung during these services.
An especially Greek Christmas tradition is the decorating of a karakavi, a small sea vessel. Some believe this tradition is traced back to the important Greek Saint Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Sailors.
Still others believe this tradition is more rooted in Greek culture. The nation is home to countless islands. Ergo, for centuries, many men have made a living as sailors.
That said, such individuals spent many months away from their families and homes often battling treacherous conditions. The karakavi were created as a way of honouring their service and praying for their safe return.
In certain Greek regions, especially Crete, the Christmas Hog is still a major custom. Given the nation’s proximity to water and its possessing a tropical climate, citizens have typically consumed the famed Mediterranean Diet, comprised primarily of seafood and produce products.
Traditionally, any type of meat was considered a significant delicacy and privilege. However, during the Christmas season, which in Greece, lasts 12 days, people would splurge and eat pig meat. In fact, not one part of the animal would be wasted. Even the pig’s bladder would be cleansed, inflated, and used as a ball by children.
Like other countries and cultures, Greek people embrace the Christmas season by singing jovial and religious-based carols, also known as “kalanda”. In many instances, these songs are sung by children. On Christmas Eve, participating young people go from home to home asking for permission to sing. When the homeowners invite them in, the youths sing. After the performance is completed, the homeowners often demonstrate their appreciation by rewarding the young people with sweet treats.
In Greece, certain traditional foods are eaten in celebration of Christmas. Popular appetisers include a soup made up of lemon, chicken, eggs, and rice. In accordance with the hog tradition, some type of pork recipe is typically the main course, which is supplemented with side dishes such as stuffed cabbage and Christopsomo bread.
There are also some traditional pastries that are served during this time of year, such as the Melamakarona cookies, which are usually only made at this time of year. Other traditional favourites include a variety of cookies, walnut spice cake, and cheese pastries.
A particularly unique Greek Christmas tradition is the Kalikantzaroi, or Christmas goblins. Tradition states these small, foul creatures emerge from the underworld during the holiday season, lurk at night and possess the potential to cause serious damage if they enter one’s home.
Legend continues that homeowners who place colanders on their doorsteps can keep these evil spirits from entering. These implements have countless holes. Tradition says that the creatures believe the number three is holy and must kill themselves before saying three out loud.
Christmas is one of the major holidays of the year. Because of this, there are many Greek Christmas traditions associated with it. We hope that you enjoy participating in some or all of these Greek customs at Christmas time this year.