Customs & Traditions

Christmas Customs in Greece
Livin' and Lovin' it in Greece |

Christmas in Greece can be a lot of things: it can be White-unusual ! – or warm, or HOT ! But in any case, it’s celebrated all over the country, maybe not as gloriously as in the rest of the world-let’s not forget that Easter is our biggest holiday-but our customs are quite interesting and some of them date back into history. Let’s see some of them:

CALANDA (Greek Christmas carols):

If someone rings your doorbell early in the morning of 24, 31 December or 5 January, don’t think it’s a naughty neighbour determined to wake you up, it will probably be children singing the “calanda”, the Greek Christmas carols. These are sung by groups of children or at least two, accompanied by little triangles, accordions, or guitars. As you open the door, the children will ask you: “Na ta poume?” (Shall we say them?). Your line here is: “Na ta pite” (go ahead and say them). After 25 groups of carol singers you may say: No, thank you, or just not open. Now, you should know that our calanda are very cheerful and joyful songs, they go way back in history (like everything else here), you will absolutely love them, you won’t understand a word because the language is formal Greek with a touch of Ancient Greek. Therefore, open your purse and give the little ones some money, even if you hated them, just for the time they spent learning all these words!

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Our personal favourite sweet and custom of the New Year is the VASILOPITA, the cake we cut and share on New Year’s Eve or Day. The vasilopita is usually a cake with a coin inside it. As we cut and share it, we cut the first pieces for Jesus, Saint Basil, the poor, the house, and then the members of the family and the friends. The “head” of the family — grand father or father — does the cutting and sharing, the rest of us search to find the coin, as whoever gets it will be the luckiest one throughout the year. Now the history behind this tradition is: In the 14th century Cappadokia, a Byzantine province in Asia Minor, suffered from famine but this fact did not stop the heartless eparch* of the town from demanding to get the taxes, threatening the town with destruction. St.Vasilios, the Bishop in Caesareia, urged the people to offer their valuables in order to rescue their town. The people obeyed and Saint Vasilios collected a pile of offerings to give the eparch*, but the last minute he managed to smooth his heart and change his mind. Now Saint Vasilios had a problem: he was left with a pile of valuables to give back to the people, without knowing who they belonged to! So, he got a brilliant idea: he asked the baker to bake one small cake for each family and he put one piece of jewellery inside. And the miracle happened: each family got what they had given!!! Ever since that time we celebrate this event by sharing the cake with the coin – only one coin, no more…

Eparch: in the Byzantine Empire, the governor of an eparchy

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So, now that you know about these customs and habits, you can celebrate Christmas and the New Year in happiness and….more knowlegdable, until we get back from the holidays and find out about… KALIKANTZARI !

photo: La Natividad by EL GRECO (created between 1597 and 1603)

 

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