Christmas is a significant holiday celebrated in Greece and amongst people of Greek origin. This time is filled with moments to spend with loved ones, church services, and many unique traditions. Some special food traditions 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. Christmas Eve services are formally known as the Eve of Nativity celebration in this tradition. Numerous Biblical verses are cited during this special gathering, and hymns are sung. Each of the elements of the service is designed to announce Christ’s birth.
Some elements include the Hours, which summarise Christmas themes; the Vespers, which include Bible verses that announce Christ’s arrival into the world; and the Divine Liturgy of Saint Basil. Some special hymns are sung during these services.
An especially Greek Christmas tradition is decorating 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.
Such individuals spent many months away from their families and homes, often battling treacherous conditions. The karakavi was created to honour their service and pray 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 tropical climate, citizens have typically consumed the famed Mediterranean Diet, comprised primarily of seafood and produce products.
Preparing the Food
The day after the pig is killed, the family gathers to cut the meat to prepare various foods. Although some of it will be served at Christmas, a hog is a large animal, and the meat will be prepared in different ways to preserve it. For instance, they make sausages, apakia, pithi, siglina, omathies, and Tsigarithes.
Here’s an overview of how the meat is traditionally prepared:
- Apakia – The pork meat is cut into chunks and then smoked.
- Pithi – With pithi, the meat is seasoned and then preserved in gelatin.
- Siglina – The meat is cut into small pieces and then stored in large pots with the lids on. They store this preparation for a couple of months.
- Omathies – The intestines and liver are mixed with rice and raisins during this process.
- Tsigarithes – The pork is seasoned and usually eaten it in the mid-morning meal with bread.
Traditionally, any 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. 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 celebrate Christmas 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, the homeowners often demonstrate 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 of lemon, chicken, eggs, and rice. Following the hog tradition, some pork recipe is typically the main course, supplemented with side dishes such as stuffed cabbage and Christopsomo bread.
Some traditional pastries are served during this time of year, such as the Melomakarona cookies, which are usually only made at this time of the year. Other classic favourites include 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.
The 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 it three times 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 you enjoy participating in some or all of these Greek customs this year at Christmas. Read also: Traditional symbol behind Christmas boats in Greece.