5 Greek Christmas Traditions To Make You Feel Festive
Decorating The Christmas Boat
Before the Christmas tree, there was the Christmas boat! This was traditionally what people used to decorate in Greece. If we trace the roots of this Greek Christmas tradition, we will find that it was done in honour of the sailors returning home for Christmas to spend time with their families.
The Christmas tree that you might be more familiar with was only introduced into Greece in the 19th Century. This was when Bavarian Otto was the king of Greece. The Greek peoples’ connection with the sea is still apparent today. Many of the islands still adorn a boat with sparkling lights at Christmas time.
☞ Related: The Best Quiet Greek Islands To Escape To
The Greek Santa Claus
One of the things that people often find surprising about Greek Christmas tradition is that Santa arrives on New Years! Santa Claus is known as Saint Basil in Greece or Agios Vasilis. Saint Basil of Caesarea, a father of the Orthodox faith and philanthropist, died on the 1st of January 379 AD. So, at the beginning of the New Year his life is celebrated. As you can tell he looks a bit different from the modern-day Santa. He is depicted as a tall man with black eyes and a dark coloured beard!
Saint Basil’s Pie
Another tradition that remains connected to the life of Saint Basil is vasilopita or Saint Basil’s Pie. This is just one of the delicious traditional foods you need to try if you are visiting in December or January. While not a Greek Christmas tradition, rather a New Years’ tradition, many families celebrate by serving this treat after the clock strikes 12 on the 31st.
There’s another secret that makes this tradition particularly exciting! Inside the pie is a coin, and whoever finds the coin is said to have good luck for the rest of the year! The first pieces are dedicated to Christ, Mother Mary, Saint Basil and the house that the cutting takes place in. After this everyone gets their own piece. Warning: squabbles may ensue for who takes the prize!!
Try Some Greek Christmas Food
One of the ways you know Christmas has arrived is the desserts that pile up in storefronts and indulge your senses everywhere you turn. Think about honey cookies (melomakarona), almond cookies (kourabiedes) and of course Christ-bread or christopsomo which is decorated with a cross and served with dinner. It is a Greek Christmas tradition to have some of these delicious cookies in December. If you are visiting make sure you try these amazing festive treats.
Greek Christmas Carols
Christmas carols might be a more familiar tradition to you. In Greece they are called ‘kalanta’. It’s one of the Greek Christmas traditions that is much loved by children. Often, they go door to door to sing on Christmas Eve, New Years Eve, and on the eve of Epiphany. As you can see below the little boy is holding a traditional Greek Christmas boat and the carol mentions Saint Basil of Caesarea.