Christmas in Greece

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)  Traditionally the “Christmas holiday period” in Greece lasts 12 days, until January 6 (Epiphany). There are many customs associated with the Christmas holidays, some of which are relatively recent, “imported” from other parts of the world (like eating turkey on Christmas day, decorating the Christmas tree). Greeks are increasingly choosing to decorate small Christmas boats (see picture) instead of trees, which are widely considered an imported custom. The modern Christmas tree entered Greece in the luggage of the country’s first king, Otto of Bavaria, who ascended to the throne in 1833 but the tree did not become popular before the 1940s.Still, Christmas in Greece maintains, in many respects, its originality, particularly in rural areas.
Christmas: A Word Of Greek Origin
Where did “Xmas” come from? Some transliterations of Greek spell Christos as Xristos. The “X” stood in for the first letter of the word Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ). “Xmas” has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where the X represents the Greek letter X (chi). While in modern times Xmas is regarded as a kind of slang, it was originally considered to be a perfectly respectful abbreviation, especially as it included a form of the cross in the shape of the “X”. Christmas (“Χριστούγεννα”), the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most joyful days of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Christmas Sweets
In the past, the honey cookies (melomakarona) were made exclusively for Christmas, while sugar cookies, or kourabiedes, were prepared for the New Year. Today, though, this distinction is not observed anymore and both melomakarona and kourabiedes are prepared and consumed throughout the festive season. Another traditional custom that dates back to the Byzantine times is the slicing of the Vassilopita (Basil’s cake or New Year Cake). The person who finds the hidden coin in his/her slice of the cake, is considered to be blessed for the rest of the year.
Christmas Carols
The singing of Christmas carols (or kalanda, in Greek) is a custom which is preserved in its entirety to this day. On Christmas and New Year Eve children go from house to house in groups of two or more singing the carols, accompanied usually by the sounds of the triangle, but also of guitars, accordions, lyres or harmonicas. Until some time ago they were rewarded with pastries but nowadays they are usually given money. Listen to some sound extracts with Greek Christmas carols (Kalanda) from different parts of Greece. Thrace & Pontus & Epirus & Ikaria Island
Christmas Elves
Kalikantzari are little creatures that live deep down inside the earth and together with the legends of Greece, play an important part in the customs and traditions of this holiday. From Christmas until the Feast of the Epiphany, residents in Epirus place twelve spindles in front of the fireplace so that the kalikantzari see them and do not climb down the chimney. On Christmas Eve, in the town of Grevena, the followers place a large log in the corner of the house and set it alight. As the fire burns, lasting until the Feast of the Epiphany, it protects the family from the kalikantzari.