How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?

This is a guest post from Andrea Michael of Olive Translations.

If there’s one thing the Greeks know how to do it’s celebrate an event in style and Christmas is no exception.

The festivities begin before Christmas on 6th December (St Nicolas’ Day ) when children roam the streets with drums and triangles singing carols or ‘kalanda’ as they’re called in Greek. These carols have been handed down from generation to generation from Byzantine times.

Going from door to door, it’s a nice way to sing carols and children earn a few Euros (which in this economic climate is no bad thing!)

Greece being a Christian country, tradition and religion dictate many of the events that take place and Christmas is no exception. There is no doubt that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, a bread called ‘Christopsomo’, literally ‘Christ Bread’ is homemade and a sign of the cross is imprinted before it goes in the oven. On Christmas Day, the bread is sliced and each piece is given to a family member.

Christmas Day itself is usually spent in church in the morning then home for lunch with the family. Whilst turkey can be bought at supermarkets due to the influx of tourists, most families will have a leg of lamb or pork roasting on a barbeque spit cooking for hours. This is usually served with a traditional ‘spanakopita’ or spinach-cheese pie and lots of vegetables and rice.

For dessert there are two varieties of cakes ‘melomakarouna’ and ‘kourapiedes’ which are normally baked in large quantities. ‘Melomakarouna’  are semolina, cinnamon biscuits covered in honey, and ‘kourapiedes’ are rosewater and butter cookies coated with powdered sugar that are normally served on New Year’s but are often eaten earlier as they are too good to resist!

All this good food makes for partying and it’s not uncommon for music to be blaring all night long whilst everybody dances around their houses and into the street with neighbours joining in just for fun.

Gifts are not actually exchanged on Christmas Day, but are given on 1st January. Things then wind down but not before the Epiphany on 6th January. This is the date the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus’ baptism when he was a man.

The Epiphany is also known as ‘The Blessing of the Waters’. All over Greece, priests throw a cross which he has blessed into the sea ( or lake or river) and the male members of the family will dive into the freezing waters to be the first to get the cross. Whoever comes out first holding the cross is said to have good luck in the coming year.

If you happen to be in Greece and want to wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ it’s ‘Kala Christouyenna!’.

Related posts: Tuesday 13th   How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany    How do they celebrate Christmas in France?

Many thanks again to Andrea for this guest post.  Olive Translations, based in Birmingham, is a translation company with a difference. Certified to the highest European Translation Standard, EN 15038 and with an ISO 9001:2008 Certified Quality Management System in place, when we say Quality; we mean it. Let us be your Partner for the provision of serious, quality translations and we can work together to tailor make a service and price that’s right for you. For a quote please email: info@olivetranslations.com

Tuesday November 13th

If you live in Spain or Greece you’re probably being extra careful today.  Tuesday 13th – that unlucky day when things are bound to go wrong…

Tuesday? Not Friday? No. Although for UK, USA and most other countries in the western hemisphere Friday 13th is considered the unluckiest day in the world, people in Greece and Spanish-speaking countries people fear Tuesdays.

The reason is not known for sure, but it has been suggested that it has something to do with the fact that Tuesday is named after the god of war (martes in Spanish after Mars and  ἡμέρα Ἄρεως (hemera Areos) in Ancient Greek after Aries) and so trouble was expected on this day.

Another suggestion put forward is that the day is considered unlucky because Constantinople fell on a Tuesday (Tuesday May 29th 1453), causing many Greeks to flee their homes.

At least we all agree that it’s the number 13 that’s unlucky though, don’t we?  Err…..no! In Italy it’s the number 17 that is considered unlucky. The reason is a bit convoluted, but bear with me…

  •  In Roman numerals 17 is written as XVII
  • If you rearrange these four characters you get VIXI
  • VIXI means “I have lived” in Latin, and it is found on many graves in Italy

During the middle ages, uneducated people found it difficult to distinguish between XVII and VIXI and so the number 17 came to be associated with death.

Here endeth the culture lesson for today!

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Related post: How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?