Christmas in Greece and some of our traditions
The Christmas season in Greece begins on December 6th, which is St. Nicholas Day, and ends on January 6th, Epiphany Day. St. Nicholas is the patron Saint for the sailors, sailing and the protector of the seas. He has a reputation for ‘secret gift giving’ as well, (and in some areas in Greece people leave their shoes outside so the Saint can put coins inside). It is no surprise that he built a reputation and become the model for “Santa Claus”.
Christmas celebrations do not really start until about the 20th of December. Most places nevertheless, will be decorated from the end of November (especially cities). The streets are filled with people getting their festive shopping done. Christmas Carols are sang from just about everywhere. Decorations are dazzling and plentiful, playing their part in the Christmas spirit. One decor that may leave you wondering of its purpose, is the colourful Christmas boat you will see either next to trees or replacing the Christmas tree altogether. This tradition is deeply rooted to St. Nicholas and an attribute to him as the Protector of our Seas.
Christmas Carols – “Kalanda”
On Christmas Eve, whole neighborhoods transform into Christmas choir auditoriums, with many people, (usually children), singing the Carols. ‘Kalanda‘ singing is a tradition that is vivid in my memory as well during childhood. We would go around in neighborhoods, from house to house and sing the “Kalanda” away. Most times, this would involve playing an instrument too. These would be guitars, accordions, keyboards, bouzouki or small triangles. If we sang well, we would be rewarded with loads of Christmas treats. This included traditional Christmas sweets, dried figs, walnuts and other small tokens of appreciation. If it was a relative or the house of good friends they would also stuff our pockets with coins, so that we could buy our favourite toys. Needless to say, it was a day we looked forward as kids.
Popular Pagan traditions in Greece
Although Christmas trees and lit up boat replicas are widely used as the ultimate Christmas decoration, there are other, more ancient rituals and traditions as well. They can be traced back through the millenia and the pre-Christian era in Greece.
Once such tradition is to keep the “Kalikantzari” away from homes. These creatures are small Goblins, meant to create havoc everywhere they go. They are underground dwellers, (ascending from middle-earth), and reach people’s homes through the chimneys. They are especially active for twelve days, from Christmas day to Epiphany day, (6th of January). Doing naughty things is their specialty, such as spoiling food and milk, spreading the fireplace ashes around the house, and other such rascal behaviour.
To prevent them from entering the house, households would keep a bowl of water, blessed from the local priest. Inside that bowl, a bouquet of fresh Basil would be handy and serve as a sprinkler. Housewives dip the basil in the holly water and sprinkle it around in every room of the house, preventing evil spirits and goblins from entering. Having a fire burning throughout this 12 day period is also a way of keeping them from entering through the chimneys.
Traditional Christmas Sweets
We really take pride in our Christmas sweets. There are different sweets and all sorts of treats that are made during the Christmas season. Each region, takes pride in their own version of sweets that are only made during Christmas.
Some of the sweets that you will find just about everywhere in Greece are: