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December 10, 2020

Greek Christmas Time

This is how Christmas in Greece is celebrated, learn some interesting facts!

Christougena, which in Greek means Christmas, is celebrated on the 25th of December and is a time when families come together to celebrate. Greece has its own version of Santa Claus, they call him Saint Vasilis, who comes to their home on Christmas eve to deliver a few small gifts to the children.

Christmas is celebrated for fourteen days in Greece, starting on Christmas Eve and ending on January 6th, on the day of the Epiphany (Theofania) which is a feast of the Orthodox Church. Things aren't much different than common celebrations. Though, we Greeks, have the best Christmas treats in the world. Melomakarona, kourabiedes, diples and so much more of sweetness. Every home smells like honey, butter, almonds, and is filled with warmth, happiness, and love. Melomakarona (honey cookies) and kourabiedes (sugar-coated butter cookies) are the most popular traditional Christmas desserts in Greece. 

Decorations are traditional as well (of course we decorate trees too), but the official decoration is a boat. Here is how the story goes, being a maritime nation, Greece has a long naval heritage and the illuminated boat symbolizes love and respect for the sea, as well as the anticipation of reuniting with seafaring relatives and welcoming loved ones. In 1833, the Bavarian Prince Otto, who was at the time ruling the country (1832 – 1862), decorated the first Christmas tree in his palace in Nafplio. It was then, most seen in upper-class homes. Through time trees were decorated in every home. Though, there is no way a Greek doesn't have, even a tiny boat, in their home at the time of Christmas.

Santa Claus is a bit different in Greek tradition as well. In Greece, the Americanized name “Santa Claus” simply does not exist, and children always wait for their beloved Agios Vasilis (Saint Basil) to bring them gifts on New Year’s Day. The rest of the world knows Santa Claus as a modernized version of the actual Saint Nicholas, the devoted Greek bishop who lived in the fourth century in the Lycian town of Myra in Asia Minor. Modern popular traditions both in Greece and abroad have associated the figure of Santa with a jolly, plump old man with a snow-white beard and a bright red, fur-trimmed suit. Saint Basil, whose feast day is on January 1, was always remembered by the Greeks as the figure who bore gifts and helped children, the poor, and the underprivileged around Christmastime. Basil was known for his care for the poor and underprivileged and for his extremely generous nature. Legend has it that tax collectors once overtaxed the people to the extent that they were forced to hand over all their jewelry to the authorities.

Basil declared that this was unjust, and forced the tax collectors to give him the jewelry so that he could return it to the people. Of course, at that point, it was impossible to determine which jewelry belonged to whom. So, he came up with the novel idea to bake cakes, with the jewelry placed inside them, and to distribute the cake slices amongst the populace. Each person received a piece of the cake with jewelry baked inside it, and the riches were thereby distributed back to the people. This incident has never been forgotten among the Greek people, who forever after associated Basil with the tradition of gift-giving.

So, there were just some facts about how we celebrate Christmas in Greece. If you are a Greek, you already know but if not let us know if you’ve experienced the Greek traditions of Christougena!

Merry Christmas to all

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