Festive Joy and Unique Traditions - Christmas In Greece
Christmas is a magical time of year in Greece, with festive decorations, delightful culinary delights and spirited celebrations. From the ancient traditions to the contemporary celebrations, Greeks have been celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ during the winter season for centuries. From gathering around the Christmas tree to sharing family meals, from caroling to gift-giving, everyone can take part in the joyous festivities. But what makes Greek Christmas unique? Here is everything you need to know about how locals enjoy this special holiday.
The Beginnings of Christmas Traditions in Greece
Christmas is an ancient tradition, and the history of its observance in Greece goes back thousands of years. Early Greeks celebrated the winter solstice in December with festivals that honored the god Dionysus. Later, when Christianity became the official religion of the country, the church adapted the old pagan customs to their use. Eventually, Christmas was firmly established as a public holiday.
Today, there are still some traditional customs that pay homage to the ancient roots of the holiday. Most churches host a Nativity play on Christmas Eve that reenacts the story of Jesus' birth. After the performance, guests and parishioners join together in a communal feast. This custom is known as the “Agiasmos”, and is still practiced today.
A Greek Christmas Table
Food is an integral part of Greek Christmas celebrations. Each household has its own special dishes that are prepared for the feast. Some of the most popular dishes include avgolemono soup, roasted vegetables, moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, and roasted pork or lamb. Of course, no feast would be complete without dessert – the most popular being melomakarona cookies, baklava, and kourabiethes. And of course, no Greek Christmas dinner would be complete without a bottle of ouzo or tsipouro.
It's also customary for families to serve the traditional “Christopsomo” bread. This sweet loaf is usually decorated with religious symbols and letters, such as the letters “X” and “P” which symbolize Christ’s name. It's believed that if couples break off a piece of the bread and pull it apart, they will be blessed with fertility in the upcoming year.
Popular Greek Christmas Gifts
Gift-giving is an important part of Greek Christmas tradition. Many families exchange gifts on Christmas day, but the most popular time for gift-giving is the week before Christmas. Presents are often exchanged between family members and close friends, and may include items such as clothing, jewelry, books, toys, and more.
Children in Greece eagerly anticipate the arrival of Saint Basil, or Agios Vassilis, who brings them presents on New Year’s Eve. That night, children leave a wooden clog or boot outside their door in the hopes that Saint Basil will fill it with treats. The next morning, the owner of the boot or clog will find it filled with oranges, candy, nuts, and other goodies.
Christmas in Greece is a time of joy and celebration. On Christmas Eve, many households light candles in the windows of their homes to welcome the infant Jesus. During the twelve days of Christmas, carolers go from house to house singing traditional songs. On New Year’s Eve, a traditional bell ringing ceremony takes place in every town square, and fireworks light up the night sky.
The holiday season in Greece is a beautiful time to visit – from the festive decorations to the delicious food, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you're looking for traditional customs or modern celebrations, you'll find plenty of festive cheer in Greece.
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