Holiday Traditions in Greece
Merry Spoiler Alert: Links to some of our favorite hotels included
(it’s our Christmassy way to tell them how much we like them.
As usual, opinions remain our own).
Some absolutely love Christmas, others absolutely despise it. However, the Christian world agrees that the most festive days are the 12 days of Christmas: from December 25 to January 6. From the nativity of Christ to the Epiphany. Traditions include a brightly lit Christmas tree, Christmas carols and the far-fetched tale of Santa Claus bringing gifts to well-behaved kids. However, and to my amusement, there are other traditions and custom subtleties that even the Christmas grinches appreciate over the holidays. Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about holiday traditions in Greece, shall we?
Cycladic holiday traditions
Holiday traditions not only vary from country to country but even within a country, from region to region. When taking a look at Greece for example, the country with over 200 islands, the Cycladic cluster share their own take on Christmas traditions. Some are tasty, some are superstitious, others are plain weird while others are fun. They are all interesting though!
Tasty holiday traditions
Greek households will each make their homemade Christmas treats. Namely, Christmas cookies of two kinds that usually pose a dilemma for you: melomakarono or kourambie? How about both, please? The former is a honey glazed cookie sprinkled with crushed walnuts, while the latter is a shortbread, butter cookie with toasted bits of almond and covered in caster sugar. Both are delicious and available in every patisserie around Greece in addition to every household during the holidays.
In some households, they also cook diples, a thin fried dough drenched in syrup. On Christmas day, festive pancakes or tiganites only belong to the tradition in Santorini (home to the adults-suited Astarte Hotel 🙂 ).
In the rest of Greece, housewives cook Christopsomo (the bread of Christ). A bread made fancier and sweeter by adding raisins, walnuts, and spices. While for New Year, Greeks cook Vasilopita.
This special New Year cake bears a lucky coin, the flouri. After midnight, each family divides the Vasilopita into equal slices for every member and guests on that evening. Of course, whoever lands the slice with the flouri will be the lucky one for the coming year! Luck is what brings us to the second group of traditions, the superstitious ones…
Superstitious holiday traditions
In Santorini (also home to our favorite family-friendly Kalisti Hotel😉 ), on the 1st January, the local elementary school students extend their hands to their teachers in an old custom called Kalichera (good hand).
Kalichera is a tradition going back to the Byzantine era and always suggests good intentions. Children bear money, eggs or chickens to their teachers, suggesting that maybe it pays to be a teacher in Santorini.
In Folegandros (home to the beautiful Anemi Hotel🙂 ) a local legend is tied to the universal myth of evil spirits trying to defile humans around Christmas. According to the local Christmas lore, our world connects to the underworld through a tree. The goblins, or kalikantzari, live at beneath the tree, waiting for a chance to trick the minds of men, causing them to steer away from virtue.
The Kalikantzari spend the year trying to saw and ax the tree down but they usually fail. During these 12 days, evil spirits can rise to our world because in this period Christ wasn’t baptized. That means he can’t protect humanity from evil. Goblins roam the earth freely, entering people’s households to upset and frustrate them. And trying to get them to refute their faith.
Weird holiday traditions
During the 12 days of Christmas, and still linked to the evil spirits, people try to keep them away keeping their fireplace lit. In Naxos, they burn the Christokoutsouro, two logs placed on one another to form a cross. Keeping this special fire going deters evil goblins from entering the home.
What’s interesting (and slightly weird) is that these logs represent the bond between the couple of the household. As the embers burn together as one, so the bond between the couple is enhanced. It must be incredibly challenging to keep the fire going for a straight 12 days. Let alone making sure the two logs stay together as they burn.
All the above help driving back these evil beings into the ground for one more year, making the world go back to normal).
Fun holiday traditions
And when Epiphany finally arrives, it’s the time for the blessing of the waters. A priest throws a cross on a chain into the sea, and the locals dive into the cold January waters in a swimming race to grab it. The one who gets it receives the holy blessing for the coming year. In Paros, each sea village arranges its own Epiphany event.
The way Epiphany is celebrated in Greece is only open to brave participants. And only fun to watch as opposed to diving into very cold waters yourself (which is not fun at all). As many can’t take cold water temperatures, please do not try this at home!
In all other circumstances, you should choose to swim in the Aegean in warmer months. And then enjoy the Greek sea to the fullest with a wonderful cruise around the Greek islands. 😉
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