Christmas is an exciting time that adults and children wait patiently for every year. Most people imagine decorated trees, elves preparing the presents, flying reindeer, and Santa Claus delivering the gifts through the chimney. But Christmas in Greece can look a little different.
So, to familiarize yourself with Greece’s Christmas celebrations, here are five common traditions practiced throughout the holiday season.
Although you will still find decorated Christmas trees in most households, cities, and villages, in many parts of Greece, and especially the islands, you will see decorated boats.
The tradition of decorated boats was started by Greek wives and children who would decorate wooden boats to welcome their husbands and sons back from the sea, safe from harm.
Greek Christmas carols, also known as Kalanda, are sung on the three caroling days in Greece. The morning of Christmas Eve, the morning of New year’s Eve, and the morning of the Eve of Epiphany.
Traditionally, a group of children goes from house to house to sing the carols and wish their neighbors happy holidays. Then, they are usually rewarded with sweets, dried fruits, and small change. The lyrics of Greek Christmas carols wish prosperity and luck to the family.
Everyone knows Santa Claus, who travels around the world on the 25th of December to deliver gifts. But in Greece, the one who endeavors to bring presents to the children is Agios Vasilis. He is the Greek version of Santa Claus.
Agios Vasilis was a man who lived some hundreds of years ago and was known as a kind man who worked his whole life to help the poor by giving them gold. He is celebrated on the 1st of January, so traditionally, on this day, people exchange gifts.
Vasilopita is a traditional Greek cake or bread served at midnight on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the life of Saint Basil or Agios Vasilis. After baking the cake, a coin is inserted through the base. The one who finds the coin is said to be granted luck for the rest of the year.
According to Greek Christmas traditions, every year after midnight on New Year’s Eve, the householder cuts the cake in pieces. The first piece cut is for Christ, the second for Virgin Mary, and the third for the house. Then the rest of the cake is cut into pieces for the members of the family and is given in order of age.
Breaking a Pomegranate
Pomegranate has been a symbol of fortune, fertility, and prosperity in Greece and Greek mythology for thousands of years. So, during the Christmas holidays, locals use pomegranate decorations on the doors of houses.
On New Year’s Eve, just after midnight, the householder stands outside the house’s front door and breaks a pomegranate by throwing it on the doorstep. The seeds of the fruit spread on the floor symbolize happiness and health to the family.