Celebrating Christmas in Greece
December 17, 2010
The Christmas Season always brings back nostalgic memories from my childhood past in Greece. Christmas then was not all about Santa Claus and presents under the tree. It was about celebrating our Christmas traditions with our family. The Christmas season in Greece begins on December 6th, which is Saint Nicholas Day, and ends on January 6th, the day of Epiphany. Most of the Christmas traditions in Greece are more or less similar to the West. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th, and it’s considered a very holy day in the Greek Orthodox religion.
We would attend church on Christmas Day, and celebrate Christ’s birth with a special service. After church, we enjoyed a big family Christmas dinner with roasted turkey and potatoes cooked with fresh sprigs of rosemary and garlic. For dessert, we would have the special “Christopsomo” Greek Christmas bread made with spices of cinnamon, cloves, raisins and nuts.
My mom also baked other Christmas desserts: Baklava, "melomakarona" (honey dipped spiced cookies), and several other traditional Greek cookies. The kitchen had a fantastic aroma. The Christmas tree was decorated with my mom’s Greek heirloom Christmas ornaments. Relatives and friends would stop by our house and exchange Christmas wishes and savor my mom’s desserts. As a child, I received presents on New Year's Day. My parents would tell us that St. Nicholas visited us on New Year’s Eve, and brought us presents for the welcoming of the New Year. We celebrated New Year’s Day with the cutting of the "Vasilopita" (St. Basil’s cake). The cutting of the "Vasilopita" (St. Basil’s cake) is celebrated throughout Greece with family and friends, and it represents good luck and blessings for the New Year.
A coin is baked in the "Vasilopita" and is considered a luck symbol. The founder of the coin would have good luck and blessings for the New Year. All of us kids would watch with anticipation as my dad sliced the "Vasilopita". In my lifetime, I have only won the coin once.
One of my favorite childhood memories is caroling with my friends. We had musical instruments called "Trigona" (triangles). We would go to several houses around the neighborhood on Christmas Eve and sing the "kalanda", similar to Christmas carols. Then, the homeowner would give each of us a small amount of money.
These are my early childhood memories of celebrating Christmas in Greece. We continue to practice most of our Greek traditions, which I have passed on to my children. We have adopted some of the American ways of celebrating Christmas, and now I tell my children that Santa Claus had visited us on Christmas Eve.
If you are interested in learning about other countries celebrating Christmas, the library has several books on the subject. From our online catalog, you can find Christmas in Greece by World Book, Inc. Another is Christmas Around the World : a Clebration by New Orchard Editions. You can also check-out our Research databases on Geography and Travel. A wealth of information can be found about countries and cultures of the world.