Greek Carols for Christmas, New Year and Epiphany

A very old custom which remains today practically unchanged is Christmas Carols, which is called Kalanda [or Calanda] in Greek. Children, in groups of two or more, still make the rounds of houses singing carols, usually accompanied by the triangle or guitars, accordions or harmonicas.

The children go from house to house, knock on doors and ask: “shall we sing them?” If the homeowner’s answer is yes, the kids sing their favourite carols for several minutes before finishing up with the wish, “And for the next year, many happy returns”. Years ago the homeowners offered the children holiday sweets and pastries, but today they usually give them some money.

The carols are sung on the eves of Christmas, New Year and Epiphany, and they are different for each holiday.

The Greek word Calanda stems from the Latin, calenda, which translates as “the beginning of the month”. It is believed that the history of caroling goes deep into the past and connects with ancient Greece. In fact, they have even found carols written in those distant past days which are similar to the ones sung today. In ancient times the word for carols was Eiresioni, and children of that era held an effigy of a ship which depicted the arrival of the ancient god Dionysos. Other times they held an olive or laurel branch decorated with red and white threads, on which they would tie the offerings of the homeowners.

This Eiresioni song from the Homeric period can still be heard today – with small changes – in the carols of Thrace perfecture in Greece >

In this house we came of the rich-landlord

May its doors open for the wealth to roll in

The wealth and happiness and desired peace should enter

And may its clay jugs fill with honey, wine and oil

And the kneading tub with rising dough.

Today is the lights and the enlightment
The happiness is big and the sanctification
Down the Jordan River
Sits our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary
She carries an organ, a candle she holds
And pleads with St. John.
St. John lord and Baptist
Baptize this divine child of mine
I shall ascend to the heavens
To gather roses and incense
Good day, good day
Good day to you master and the missus.

Greek New Year’s Carols

Here are the lyrics to the Greek New Year’s Carols >

In Greek > 

Ayios Vasilis erhete
Ke den mas katadehete
Apo, apo tin Kessaria.
Si sa arhon, si sa arhondissa Kiria!
Vastaei penna ke harti
Zaharokandio zimoti
Harti, harti ke kalamari
Des kai eme, des kai eme, to pallikari!

To kalamari egrafe
Ti mira tou tin elege
Ke to, ke to harti milouse
To hriso, to hriso mas kariofili!

Arhiminia ki arhihronia
Psili mou dendrolivania,
Ke arhi, ke arhi kalos mas hronos.
Eklisia, eklisia, me t’ ayio throno!

Arhi pou vgike o Hristos
Ayios ke Pnevmatikos,
Sti gi, gi na perpatisi
Ke na mas, ke na mas kalokardisi!

In English >

Saint Basil comes,
And does not acknowledge us
From Caesarea.
You are, you are the mistress of the house!

He holds a pen and paper
And leavened sweets
Paper, paper and ink.
Look at me, look at me, the brave one!

The ink wrote
And told fortunes,
And the, and the paper spoke.
Our golden, our golden clove!

It is the first day of the month and the year,
My tall rosemary,
And from, and from the beginning a good year for us.
The church, the church with the holy throne!

Christ came in the beginning,
Holy and Spiritual;
On earth, on earth he walked
To give us, to give us good cheer!

Christmas Traditions > Greece and Cyprus

On Christmas Eve, children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, Greek carols. Often the songs are accompanied by metal triangles and clay drums. The children are given sweets and dried fruit as a reward for their singing.

The Christmas feast is of major importance, especially since it ends 40 days of fasting. Special loaves of bread, Christopsomo (Christ Bread) are prepared for the meal.

Many, many decades ago, Christmas trees were unheard of in Greece. Now Athens boasts one of the world’s largest outdoor Christmas tree, constructed of thousands of lights on cables emanating from the top of a tall tower.

Each day, during the twelve days of Christmas, the house is blessed with holy water by a family member as a protection against the Kallikantzaroi, gnome-like mischief makers. These goblins, who are said to live in the center of the earth, make their way into homes via the chimney. They create all kinds of mischief such as dousing the fire, riding on people’s backs, braiding the tails of horses and making the milk sour. In order to help in the efforts to keep them away, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

The Carols

“Shall we sing them?”
“Yes, sing them, sing them!”

This is the characteristic question by the children who knock on each door offering to sing the carols, whether they are for Christmas, for the New Year or for Theofania (Epiphany) in Greece and Cyprus.

Hundreds of groups of children spill into the streets of villages, towns and cities throughout Greece and Cyprus, some holding musical instruments and others with musical triangles and drums, asking homeowners whether they can sing them the carols. At the end, the carol singers are rewarded with either money or sweets.

This is another tradition that has been carried down from generation to generation and is still found today throughout the Nation. The word “kalanda” (carols) emanates from the Latin “calenda” which means the start of the month.

The custom of singing carols pre-existed in Greece even before the Roman era. The carols have their base in old popular songs and the lyrics wish the home owner and his family good health and fortune in the New Year.

In various parts of the country, both on the mainland and on the islands, the carols are performed in different ways.

Shall we sing? (An article about the Greek carols)

On Christmas Eve morning, the bell rings, and the atmosphere is filled with familiar melodies: Christmas Carols. The sound of the flute, or the melodica and sometimes only a simple triangle accompany the children’s caroling. The chanting culminates in various ways of wishing a long life to the landlord and his family. The lady of the house offers small amounts of money for the children’s piggy bank. In the country, kids are offered traditional sweets of the season, almonds and fruits.

Christmas signals the advent of 12 holidays also known as Dodecameron, which ends on Epiphany Day. On the eve of the most noted holidays such as Christmas, and Epiphany, children sing special carols for each holiday. What are these carols and how they have evolved into their present form?

The Greek word Kalanda (carols), derives from the Latin calendae, which means the first day of the month. In Ancient Greece, there were various texts comparable to the contemporary Kalanda, which contained praises for the landlord and good wishes for the prosperity of the household. At that time, children sang carols while carrying boat models in honor of the God Dionyssos. Sometimes they carried branches of olive or laurel upon which they hung their tips and gratuities.

From the second half of the 2nd century B.C. the beginning of the New Year was celebrated on the first days of January. According to a tradition, Rome was once rescued by three brothers, Kalandos, Nonnos and Eidos who undertook the feeding of its inhabitants. The first one undertook the first twelve days and was named Kalandas, the second undertook the following 10 days, which were called Nonnas and the third one the last eight days, which were named Eidous. Gradually, the two latter holidays were overshadowed by the first, which was retained as a major holiday in the Greek calendar. The other two were to be forgotten a long time before the onset of the Christian holidays. In the first years of Christianity, the Kalanda, (carols) were prompted by the need to narrate the meaning of the holidays and the traditions surrounding them.

Read more and listen to Greek traditional carols at > Music Library of Greece – LILIAN VOUDOURI

The Music Library of Greece “Lilian Voudouri” was created by the Friends of Music Society to meet the needs of all Greek music lovers. It makes available – for the first time in Greece – a large collection of information and study material on music to visitors, but also to distant users.

The collections of the library focus on these areas: Western Music, Greek art music from antiquity and the Byzantine period to the present, Greek folk music, including the Rebetika, traditional music from all parts of the world, and jazz.

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