The unique Greek Christmas

Nikoforos Lytras- Christmas Carols

A small run through history 

Let us introduce you to the wonderful tradition of Greek Christmas – Χριστούγεννα.

It is a unique experience in its own right with great tradition and devoutness.

Rooted deeply in Greek Orthodoxy the history and symbolism are unique and have survived for centuries.

You will find no Saint Nicholas or Santa Klaus in Greece but Agios Vassílis. Known as Saint Basil, we was one of the Three Hierarchs who helped shape the Christian tradition of the 4th century. 

He is considered to be the worlds’ father of organised philanthropy. His dedication and purpose in life had been to care for the weak and poor. He build a hospital and hospice and dedicated his familys’ inheritance to their benefit and the training of unskilled workers.

His death was a huge event and the reason why Greek Orthodoxy celebrates his life and work on the 1st January, the anniversary of his death on the 1st January 379. 

Christmas in a Greek home

Credit: Dimitris Siskopoulos

During the festive period you will notice that most Greek homes and shops have decorated traditional model boats, kaíkia. 

Greeks have been a sea-faring nation for centuries and for this reason they celebrate the patron saint of sailors, Saint Nicholas, whose name-day is on the 6th of December.

Family homes fill up with the beautiful aromas of orange, cinnamon, all-spice and cloves, and families setup beautiful trays of Melomakárona and Kourabiédes, treats that have centuries-long tradition in Greek culture. Melomakarona

The platters always get replenished as they get gobbled up, and their perfect mountain-like presentation is always impressive.

Melomakárona, made with natural ingredients such as orange, wheat, cinnamon and honey express the simplicity of Greek customs and tradition and the link to mother nature and its goods.

Your hosts will also treat you to rakómelorakí or tsípouro boiled slow-boiled with honey, cloves and cinnamon. It does warm the heart and soul! Friends and family will gather around a fireplace for hours on end eating traditional treats and sipping on Greek wine or rakómelo.

The Christmas table

The meat of choice on a Greek Christmas table has traditionally been pork. In Greece, historically an agricultural society, pork has always been the inexpensive and plentiful option.

Slow-cooked in a wood oven, in gástras, caramelised with honey, nuts, orange, dates, and sage it is a delightful feast. As disposable income started rising, turkey also became a staple of the Christmas table. Wild-boar is another great meat option that is served in parts of Greece that have native wild-boar populations present.

In the New Year Greek families and workplaces, all gather together to cut the Vassilópita, in honour of Saint Basil. The cake is usually a round cake topped with icing sugar, that has a coin secretly planted within. The winner of the coin, flourí, is considered to be blessed for the new year with health and prosperity.

Greek Carols – Kálanda

You have not experienced Greek Christmas without having experienced Greek Carols – they are truly joyous.

On Christmas and New Years’ Day young children rush out on the streets with triangles, and knock on every door to sing the Carols. It is a deep-rooted tradition going back to the Byzantine era. The kids sing Christian stories narrating events around the birth of Christ, and the Kálanda do vary by region across the country. 

As the kids finish singing they are rewarded with various Christmas cookies and pocket money, a very profitable endeavour for the crafty and talented ones!

Click here to read in depth about Kálanda, courtesy of The Greek Vibe! 

The Epiphany

Celebrations end on the 6th January with Greeks the world all-over honouring the Baptism of Christ, through which the one and only show of God on earth occurred. And that is why they are called Theofaneia (God’s presence) in Greek.

The celebration starts with the service of the Great Sanctification of Water with locals and visitors gathering around the edges of ports and lake shores. The head priest throws a cross into the cold water with brave swimmers jumping in. As a result the swimmer that catches the cross first receives the priests’ blessing. 

We hope you enjoyed it this quick run through the history and celebrations of Greek Christmas!

We wish you all happy holidays & Merry Christmas!

You shouldn’t have to travel to Greece to enjoy an authentic Greek meal. At Hungry Donkey we provide our guests with a wholesome, traditional, and home-cooked Greek dining experience in the heart of London. When you dine with us, you will enjoy some of the best Greek food around, a welcoming Greek atmosphere, and true Greek hospitality!

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