Christmas around the world > Greece

Christmas in Greece

Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas) is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.

On Christmas Eve small boys to the beating of drums and the tinkling of triangles usually sing carols. They go from house to house and are given dried figs, almonds, walnuts and lots of sweets or sometimes small gifts.

After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs are slaughtered and on almost every table are loaves of Christopsomo or “Christ Bread”. This bread is made in large sweet loaves of various shapes and the crusts are engraved and decorated in some way that reflects the family’s profession.

Christmas trees are commonly used in Greece. In almost every home the main symbol of the season is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Kallikantzaroi (Goblins) away from the house.

There is a tradition according to which Kallikantzaroi, were the mischievous goblins and appear on the earth during the 12 days of Christmas.

At Christmas presents are given to each other. Also, small gifts are given to hospitals and orphanages.

Priests sometimes go from house to house sprinkling holy water around to get rid of the bad spirits who may be hiding in people’s houses.

In most Greek homes an evergreen tree is decorated with tinsel and a star placed on top. Gifts are also exchanged on January 1st, Saint Basil’s Day. On this day the Vasilopitta, a cake, which contains a hidden coin is cut into pieces and each member of the family receives one. The one who finds the coin is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.

On Christmas Eve, groups of people gather around the holiday table. Figs, dried on rooftops are served with the spicy golden Christopsomo bread.

Greeks greet one another by saying Kala Christougenna (Merry Christmas) and Hronia Polla (Many Happy Years). The table filled with traditional food also includes such sweets as melomakarona and kourambiedes, a Greek nut cookie.