Christmas Greece

Author: Faris Nejad

Christmas in Greece -If Christmas Day in Greece comes and goes and all that happens is a traditional family lunch, don't be surprised. - Creek children have to wait until midnight on New Year Eve for Agios Vasilis - the Creek bearer of gifts to deliver the presents. -To the Creeks, Christmas ranks as second after Easter as an important annual holiday.

Christmas in Greece starts with a 4O day fast although this is a tradition that is mainly practiced by the elderly. What is observed by almost all is the Christmas Day celebrations which starts at 4 am at church followed by a Christmas feast, which usually includes a roast suckling pig or a roast turkey.

In addition to the meat and all the rest of the food every table has a loaf of Christopsomo - Christ's Bread. This is a large sweet loaf of bread with various shapes which has a crust engraved and decorated in some way that reflects the family's profession. The meal is followed by traditional sweets including Kurambiedes, nut cookies dusted with icing sugar, Diples, fried dough cookies dipped in honey, and Melomakarouna, honey-dipped cookies, often stuffed with nuts. These are all totally delicious and totally fattening!!! In the period before Christmas and Christmas Eve, children throughout Greece go from house-to-house in groups singing the Kalanda ,Greek Christmas Carols, offering good wishes. The children often dress up are always accompanied by at least one child playing an instrument, usually a triangle or a wooden drum. It is traditional to show your appreciation to the children with sweets, dried fruits or money, so make sure you have something conveniently located in a basket next to the door to reward them with.

On New Years Eve after Agios Vasilis comes and goes, the family sits down for a light dinner and the cutting of the Vasilopita. The Vasilopita is a traditional cake that has a coin hidden in it. The cake is cut starting with a slice for Christ and then the family members of the household holding the event starting from the father. Then slices are cut for the rest of the guests according to age. Whoever is fortunate enough to get the slice with the coin is believed to be blessed with good luck for the entire year to come. Kallilcantzaroi, is the Greek version of Christmas elves. Descriptions of the Kallilcantzaroi vary from area to area, although they are almost invariably males. The Kallilcantzaroi are believed to emerge from the centre of the earth and slip into people's houses through the chimney. More mischievous than anything else, they do things like extinguish fires, ride astride peoples hacks, braid horses tails, and sour the milk. To repel the undesirable spirits, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days of Christmas between Christmas and Epiphany on January 6th. Despite the fact that some years ago Athens boasted one of the world's largest outdoor Christmas "trees" made of thousands of lights on cables stemming from the top of a tall tower, previously, Christmas trees were unheard of in Greece. The decoration of the Christmas tree was brought to Greece by the Bavarian kings. Traditions aside, all the big cities on the mainland of Greece are great places to be during the Christmas holidays. You may not be lying on a sunny beach but the winters are relatively mild. Also contrary to popular belief, the small islands don't actually close down during the winter months. There are hotels that stay open all year round as well as restaurants, and many of them make a special effort for the holiday period. Trips to the more well known archaeological sites like the Acropolis, Delphi, Meteora, and Myceneae are a real treat as due to lack of crowds, you can have these famous sites almost all to yourself. Athens especially, but Thessaloniki and Patra too, come alive with Greek concerts, and popular music shows in the centre of cities and towns and also in taveras. Of course with shopping too, you really notice the buzz in the air as you go from street to street and from ally to ally seeing fashionable and vibrant people enjoying life the Greek way. So put Greece on your next Christmas holiday destination possibilities and if you are lucky enough to see Agios Vasilis with a gift for you on New Year Eve don't let him find out you already got your gift on Christmas.