Christmas in Greece is as big and joyful a holiday as everywhere, but if you visit Greece throughout the second part of December and early January, you’ll find out that Greeks celebrate Christmas slightly different from other Christians.
This is because Greeks hold to some ancient traditions that are incorporated with modern ones, which guarantees truly a rewarding experience to any visitor who pays a visit to Greece throughout the period.
You can enjoy Greek Xmas most extensively from December 25th (Greek Christougena) until January 6th (Feast of Epiphany). Greeks center their Christmas celebrations on Christ, St. Basil and their celebrated maritime past. At the squares of most coastal and island settlements, you can find boat instead of Xmas tree decorations.
People who can’t imagine Xmas without Christmas trees should head to mountainous settlements, where Christmas trees are very much in use. If so, there is a good chance for you to celebrate Xmas by the Christmas tree cultivated and harvested on the Mount Holomontas, in central Halkidiki. The residents of the Taxiarhis village personally sell fir trees throughout northern Greece and around Thessaloniki, and export over 50 000 Xmas trees throughout Greece.
Moreover, you are sure to notice something else, wherever you celebrate Christmas in Greece. The essential Xmas decoration in Greek homes is a wooden bowl, decorated by a small wooden cross. The talisman is wrapped in basil and usually placed next to the fireplace, where the fire is continually going from December 25th to January 6th. The talisman and the fire protect houses against Kallikantzari, the goblins who descent down the chimneys and spread mischief.
If your intention is to visit a Greek friend during the Christmas season, note that Greeks traditionally exchange gifts on January 1st, the St. Basil’s Day. During the day, participate in the celebration involving the vasilopta cake (referring to St. Vasilis, alias St. Basil or Santa Claus). If you receive a piece of cake containing golden coin, a good fortune will follow you the entire year.
Finally, in addition to turkey and a plethora of famous specialties prepared by Greeks during Xmas season, make sure to sample cakes that are specially prepared for the occasion. Have melomakarona, kourabiedes and diples, traditional delicacies that are popular countrywide. Christopsomo, Christ’s bread, assumes the special place in Xmas celebrations in Greece. People design bread in a number of shapes, decorating it with X letters and crosses most commonly. The bread is baked the day before Xmas, and eaten on Christ’s birthday.
In Greece, people in villages spread good fortune by using pomegranate, the symbol of happiness and good health. On New Year’s Day, householders smash the pomegranate by hitting it hard on the floor in front of the house, with seeds spreading everywhere.