Christmas Eve: A time of fasting and anticipation
For many Greeks, Christmas Eve is a day of fasting and reflection, a period of anticipation for the birth of Christ. It is a day of abstinence from meat and dairy products, a symbol of spiritual preparation. Families often attend the church service on Christmas Eve, where the birth of Christ is announced at midnight with the lighting of the "Christopsomo". This is no ordinary bread; it is an artistic masterpiece, meticulously decorated with crosses, wreaths or even nativity scenes.
Christmas tree and decorations: A festive sparkle
Greek households come alive with the sparkle of Christmas trees and decorations. Although these customs are akin to those in many parts of the world, in some regions, especially in rural areas, small boats are decorated with ornaments instead of traditional Christmas trees, a tribute to Greece's maritime heritage.
The feast of St Nicholas: a harbinger of joy
The feast of St Nicholas on 6 December is a day full of excitement, especially for the little ones. On this day, children put their shoes by the fireplace, eagerly awaiting the gifts and treats Sinterklaas will leave for them. Their eyes light up with joy when they wake up to discover small gifts, sweets and dried fruits, a tradition cherished by families all over Greece.
Kourabiedes and Melomakarona: Sweet gifts of love
No Greek Christmas would be complete without the delicious array of sweets that adorn the festive table. Among the most popular are "Kourabiedes" and "Melomakarona". Kourabiedes, delicious almond biscuits, are often shaped like half moons and elegantly dusted with a fine layer of icing sugar. Melomakarona, small oblong pastries, are topped with honey and decorated with ground walnuts, a harmony of spice and sweetness that embodies the essence of Greek Christmas.
Christmas: An abundant celebration
Christmas Day is a time for jubilant celebrations and feasts are at the heart of these festivities. While the details of the Christmas meal may vary from region to region and household to household, certain dishes are universally embraced:
Roast lamb or pork: A succulent roasted lamb or pig is the unmistakable centrepiece of Christmas celebrations and symbolises the sacrificial lamb.
Stuffed turkey or chicken: In urban areas and among many Greek families, the roast turkey or stuffed chicken takes centre stage, perfectly prepared with aromatic herbs and spices.
Vasilopita: A sweet mint of happiness
As the Christmas season unfolds, New Year's Day, also known as St Basil's Day, is celebrated with a sweet tradition. The "Vasilopita" is a specially prepared bread or cake, and inside its delectable interior is a hidden coin. It is believed that this coin brings good luck to the person who discovers it in his or her slice of Vasilopita. On New Year's Day, families and friends gather to share this symbolic cake, with pieces allocated to Christ, Saint Basil and the underprivileged, to spread the blessings of the season.
Christmas songs and Kalanta: The sound of festive cheer
Greek Christmas customs also include the charming tradition of Christmas carols, known as "Kalanta". Christmas song hunters, young and old, go from house to house singing traditional carols. Their heartfelt performances often earn them small gifts or sweets in appreciation of their musical talent. The lyrics of these carols bring good wishes for health, happiness and prosperity in the coming year, resonating with the spirit of goodwill that characterises the season.
Greek Christmas is a multifaceted celebration, combining ancient customs, profound spirituality and the unity of family and community. It is a reflection of enduring cultural and religious values passed down from generation to generation. Its culinary delights, from Christopsomo to Kourabiedes, are a sensory feast that brings people together in shared joy and unity. When the lights of Christmas twinkle and the voices of carols fill the air, Greece is transformed into a magical wonderland where the true essence of Christmas comes alive.