Christmas (Xristougenna), the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, is one of the most joyful days of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Traditionally, the Christmas holiday period in Greece lasts 12 days until January 6, which marks the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany).
Many customs are associated with the Christmas holidays, some of which are relatively recent and “imported” from other parts of the world (like eating turkey on Christmas day and decorating the Christmas tree).
In the past, Greeks decorated small Christmas boats in honour of St. Nicholas and today; they are increasingly choosing to decorate boats instead of trees, reviving this age-old Christmas tradition.
"Kalanda" or Carols
The singing of Christmas carols (or kalanda) is a custom preserved to this day. On Christmas and New Year's Eve, children go from house to house in groups singing the carols, usually accompanied by the sounds of the musical instrument "triangle," but also by guitars, accordions, lyres and harmonicas.
Until some time ago, children were rewarded with pastries, but nowadays, they are usually given money.
Greece’s hobgoblins are called "kallikántzari”, friendly but troublesome little creatures which look like elves. Kallikantzari lives deep down inside the earth and comes to the surface only during the 12 days from Christmas until Epiphany. While on the earth’s surface, they love to hide in houses, slipping down chimneys and frightening people. Throughout Greece, various customs and rituals are performed to keep hobgoblins away.
Kallikantzari disappears on the day of Epiphany when all waters are blessed and return to the earth’s core.
Sweets & Treats
Traditional culinary delights symbolize good luck in the New Year and adorn the white-clothed tables. "Melomakarona" (honey cookies) and "kourabiedes" (sugar cookies with almonds) are the most characteristic, and they characterise the beginning of the Christmas festivity.
Another traditional custom that dates back to Byzantine times is the slicing of Vasilopita (St.Basil’s pie or New Year’s Cake). The person who finds the hidden coin in his slice of the cake is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.