Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas in Greece

A Grecian Christmas

For our next Christmas adventure I thought we'd take a little trip to Greece.  A good friend of mine was trying to tell me about her Greek family's Christmas traditions- I say "trying" because even she was a little unclear on some of them!  It's those traditions that we just do because, well, it's "tradition" that are so interesting to me!  I will definitely do my next blog post on why we Americans do the traditions we do, but first, Greece.

Greece is a very religious country. The
main religion is Greek Orthodox (a branch of Christianity) and so the festivities of Christmas are centered around the saints and the birth of Jesus and not as much on Rudolph and Frosty.  The patron saint of Christmas is St. Nicolas, a Greek priest (later a bishop) who gave up his personal belongings to devote his life to helping the needy, especially children.  He was known to throw bags of gold into the open windows of the poor.  Once, the bag landed in the stocking of a child that was hung to dry near the fire. Yup, that is why we hang stockings by the fire on Christmas Eve, in the hopes that St. Nick will come!!  Now, the real St. Nicolas never flew a herd of flying reindeer around the world, or had a magical workshop in the North Pole, but he is the spirit behind Santa Claus and December 6th is his Saint Day.  This is the beginning of the Greek Christmas season. 

St. Nicolas is also the patron saint of sailors and so the Greeks decorate the ships in their many ports with beautiful lights to celebrate.  I can't even imagine how beautiful that must look!

On Christmas Eve, a special bread is made, called Christopsomo, that has a cross decorating the top.  On Christmas morning, the head of the household makes the sign of the cross over the bread and divides it among the people in the house.  There is church to attend and then a feast to celebrate.  Now, I've been to a few Greek parties and one thing I can say is that there is A LOT of delicious food!!

 An interesting belief among the culture is that of the Kallinkatzaroi, goblins that come from the underground world on Christmas to play malicious pranks and steal food from people .  They are mean-spirited but not very smart and so there are a few things you must do to prevent them from entering your home.  You can keep a fire lit at night to prevent them from coming in the chimney or another idea was to place a colander on the front porch.  Apparently, the goblins would be enticed to count the holes in the colander but since they can only count to 2 they would have to keep starting over!  Haha, silly goblins!  The goblins are able to come up from the underworld only because the waters are "unbaptized" from the time of Jesus' birth until his baptism on January 6th, the Epiphany, or Theophania in Greece.  More on Theophania in a minute, we skipped New Year's Day. 

New Year's Day is another big day in the Greek Christmas Season and is also the Saint Day of St. Vasilios, also known as St. Basil, who traditionally brings gifts to the children.  A feast is prepared and a place of honor is set at the table for St. Vasilios.  A special cake is also made, called vasilopita, that has a coin baked into it.  Legend has it that St. Vasilios devised this as a way to give money to the needy without making it seem like a handout.  The cake is usually made with the new year's date spelled out on the top with almonds and when the cake is cut the first pieces go to Jesus, Mary and St. Vasilios, the rest goes to the guests who hope they find the coin in their slice so that they can have good luck in the upcoming year! 

The last celebration of the Greek Christmas season is the Epiphany, or Theophania.  It was on this day, January 6, that Christ was baptized (in Eastern Orthodox religions) and so the priests bless the seas and waters symbolically and then throw the crucifix into the water.  Young boys plunge into the cold water hoping to be the first to find it and get good luck!  If you ask me, I'd rather try my luck with the cake!! 

Well, that is it for Christmas in Greece!  I thought we had a lot of parties to go to!!  Sounds like they know how to celebrate :) We are taking a few days off from learning about other cultures to celebrate with our own family and friends so we'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or as they say in Greece -
Kala Christougena!!!! 

I know I said my daughter hates Santa but
she actually agreed to join her brother
this year!  It's my own Christmas miracle.
Have a wonderful Christmas!!!!!!!