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Greek Christmas traditions

compiled by

Catherine Lenderi

1) Christmas Boat

Being a country surrounded by sea, Greece has a different custom regarding Christmas decorations. Traditionally, we decorate a boat in our houses and not a tree. The boat symbolises a new journey in people’s lives after Christ’s birth. It is also a kind of tribute and a welcome to all the sailors returning home to spend holidays with their families. In the past, children used to carry little boats as they visited house after house in their neigbourhood to sing the Christmas carols. Unfortunately, this is a custom that tends to become obsolete as most houses now prefer to put up a Christmas tree as a home decoration.

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2) Christ’s Bread

Traditionally, the lady of the house bakes a special kind of bread on Christmas Eve. It is called ‘ΧΡΙΣΤΟΨΩΜΟ’ (christopsomo) which means Christ’s Bread. A Cross is always shaped on the bread and, depending on regional customs, more decorations might be added on it.
On Christmas Day, the host takes the bread, makes the sign of the Cross on it with a knife, usually thrice, and then cuts a piece for every person in the house. It is said that this custom symbolises the Holy Communion; the same way Christ gave the Bread of Life to his whole human family.

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3) Christmas Sweets

We like food in Greece and especially sweets. Traditionally, lots of various sweets are made during the Christmas holidays. Some of the most popular are: ΜΕΛΟΜΑΚΑΡΟΝΑ, ΚΟΥΡΑΜΠΙΕΔΕΣ, ΔΙΠΛΕΣ (melomakarona, kourabiedes, diples).

Melomakarona have their origin in Ancient times. The Ancient Greeks used to offer a small type of bread, in the same shape as we make melomakarona today, called “Makaria”, after funerals. It was a tribute they paid the deceased during the night.
In modern times, this type of bread was covered in honey and became sweeter in taste and thus used to celebrate birth instead.

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Kourabiedes are a type of biscuit made of butter and almonds and coated in sugar powder.
In Ancient times, the Greeks baked this biscuit twice to give it its crispy texture.

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Diples is a type of sweet served on many occasions here in Greece, one of them being during the Christmas Holidays. Its origins are found in Peloponnese.
Diples, meaning folds, are made of a very thin dough, folded in various shapes and fried in very hot oil. Afterwards, they are covered in honey, cinnamon and ground walnut.

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4) Christmas Carols

We call our carols ‘KALANTA’. There are a lot of variations of carols, depending on the region and the occasion. Children roam the streets on Christmas Eve as well as New Year’s Eve and visit all the houses or shops in their neighbourhood to sing and give their wishes to the hosts. They, in turn, give money or a treat of traditional sweets (or both) to the kids.
Kids usually carry musical instruments, such as the triangle, or decorations like the traditional boat and also a box where the people put their donations. In Ancient times, kids carried a branch of olive or laurel.

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