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On the eve of Christmas, children go carolling, called ‘kalanta’ in Greek, door to door, spreading joy and good wishes in the form of song to their neighbours. The traditional instrument to accompany the carols is the percussion triangle, with its characteristic almost bell-like sound. Christmas kalanta are usually responded to with money or the season’s sweet treats, as a token of thanks for the good vibes that have spread throughout the receiving household.
About the Christmas feast
On Christmas day, families gather round their dining tables and the feast begins. A warm egg-lemon soup is a frequent choice for a starter, followed by the main dish which can be roasted pork with chestnuts or prunes, or a stuffed turkey, with all the usual tasty sides of roast potatoes and fragrant rice. Pies or ‘pites’ are honorary during Christmas, however they are also popular all year, as they are an inherent part of the Greek cuisines. Consequently, there is a huge variety of sweet and savory types of pies. A vegetarian’s dream, most are made with vegetables such as spinach, pumpkin, zucchini, leek and assorted greens, usually combined with the moreish Greek cheeses for a creamy finish. Chicken and meat pies are also made, depending on each family’s preferences and palate. Christ’s bread or ‘christopsomo’ is also served, a special semi-sweet bread that is decorated by swivels of dough, nuts and raisins. It symbolises luck and good health for the family.
About banishing of evil spirits
From the eve of Christmas and up until Epiphany day on the 6th January, or the celebration of the ‘lights’ as it is known in Greece, the fireplaces in every household are kept burning all night long and for every night. The reason for this tradition has to do with a spiritual legend; evil spirits are summoned to roam the earth for these 12 days, causing havoc in households and harassing people and children during the night. There have been numerous wicked tales of these ghouls and goblins called ‘kallikantzari’ in Greek, snatching children from their beds, never to return them to their families. The burning fireplace symbolises protection against these spirits, that are ultimately banished on the day of Epiphany, until the next eve of Christmas of the new year.
About Christmas presents
One tradition that quite different from the rest of the world is that gifts are not exchanged during Christmas day; rather, the Greek tradition dictates that presents are opened on the 1st January, on New Year’s day, which is also St. Basil’s day. The Greek equivalent to a Father Christmas or Santa Claus, the 1st of January is the name day of Basil.
The Greeks have no traditions that involve Christmas cards, or candles, candy canes, holly and mistletoe or Santa Claus. Yet still, the local traditions have survived the amalgamation with the western world, weaving fact and fable so magically, making the Greek Christmas one to experience.