Eiresione: The Ancient Greek "Christmas Tree" that was transmitted to European tradition through Byzantium

By 9 months ago

In ancient Greece there was a similar custom of decorating a tree, except that the plant was not a fir tree, but Eresione.

Eiresione (eiros=wool) was a branch of wild olive (kotinos) adorned with garlands of white and red wool and the first autumn fruits (figs, walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, cereals, etc., except for apple and pear).

It also had bottles of oil and honey. It was an expression of gratitude for the fertility of the last year and a request to continue the fertility and euphoria in the next and was dedicated to Athena, Apollo and the Horae (Eunomia, Dike, Eirene).

On the seventh day of the month Pyanepsion (approximately September 22 to October 20), children whose parents were both alive, roamed the streets of Athens singing carols from house to house, receiving their tip from the householder or the housewife and when they arrived at their home they hung Eiresione above their front door, where it was still there until the same day of the new year, when, after placing the new one, they took down the old one and burned it.

Other children hung Eiresione above the door of the Sanctuary of Apollo.

According to myth, this custom was established by Theseus when he set out for Crete to kill the Minotaur. On the way he stopped in Delos and sacrificed to Apollo, saying that in case he won the battle with the Minotaur he would offer him decorated olive branches to thank him.

Thus, returning to his homeland, Theseus fulfilled his promise.


The decoration of the Byzantine pillars, as an evolution of the ancient Greek "Eiresione", was not only not forbidden in Byzantium, but on the contrary was adopted during the Christmas holiday.

Likewise, the children continued to sing carols in the streets. It is worth noting that the manger, which is placed at the base of the Christmas tree, is also a Greek custom from the Byzantine era: they put a child, pretending to be Jesus.

The ancestor of the Christmas tree is the Eiresione, through which the custom of the decorated tree was transmitted to the Christian peoples of the north, probably by the foreign "Knights of the Middle Society", who participated with a ritual role in official ceremonies.

The "Small Society" was made up of non-religious people (eg nationals, pagans, Muslims etc). The "Middle Society" consisted of foreign and / or foreign Christians (eg Scandinavians, Germans, Russians, English, etc.). The "Great Society" consisted of "Romans", ie Greek Orthodox Christians.

Centuries later the same custom returned in the form of a Christmas and New Year tree by the Bavarians who accompanied King Otto to free Greece, as their own Christmas custom. Nevertheless, the custom of Eiresione has always existed in the historical memory of the Greeks…

Dean Kalimniou is a lawyer, author and heavily involved in the Greek-Australian community.

READ MORE: What are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Copyright GreekCityTimes 2022
Copyright GreekCityTimes 2022