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‘Tis (almost) the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la laaaaa!
Christmas is one of the most popular religious holidays of the Christian faith. Spanning across a large part of the world, it is no wonder why it is one of the most popular holidays; it is a joyous celebration of the birthday of the Christian faith’s son. Christmas and New Year’s celebrations in Greece are full of familial, heartfelt moments, that centre around food and drink, and are brimming with joy, love and the infamous hospitality Greeks are known for. As Christian Orthodox, the Greeks have their own, specific set of Christmas traditions. Some are purely Greek, some are intertwined with western influences, and others are universal. Let’s have a look at some of the season’s festivities and customs that keep the Greeks occupied for a whole month, from the 6th December to 6th January.
About the Greek Christmas climate advantage
The unbelievable, warm weather that Greece enjoys may be the reason why Greece doesn’t jump ahead of Christmas celebrations from the beginning of November, as with most other western countries that have not been blessed with the mild Greek Mediterranean climate. Christmas preparations begin on the 6th December, on St. Nicholas’ day, the patron saint of sailors, as Greece is a country that has focused much of its livelihood on the wealth of its seas. Christmases in Greece are mostly subtle and sublime, with snow more prominent in the northern, mountainous regions, and although there may be colder years when snow is evident, it rarely is cold or heavy enough to create the typical White Christmas that keeps people indoors. This makes Christmas one of the best seasons in Greece, combining weather that does not restrict you, with many occassions of Greek sunshine to boost your spirits!
About Greek Christmas fasting
The start of old fashioned Greek Christmas traditions is signalled by the commencement of Christmas fasting, around the 15th November, beginning the 40 day countdown to the 25th December, similar to the fasting that is also adhered to, 40 days prior to Easter. The concept is that the fervent faithfuls wish to be as pure as possible, with a clean body and soul, before these highly important religious days. The strict fasting schedule allows fish to be consumed until the 18th December, while between the 18th and 24th animal products are prohibited, although wine and olive oil is allowed (except on Wednesdays and Fridays). In actual fact, in this day and age, Christmas fasting is too restrictive and so not very popular with the younger generations. Therefore, it is mostly the very religious families or rural communities that tend to follow these fasting guidelines, while most of the modern families, and consequently, the majority of hospitality venues opt out of this tradition.
About Greek Christmas flair: flavours and decorations
From St. Nicholas day onwards, the Greek households begin their festive preparations. Usually enlisting the help of the children, special Christmas cookies are kneaded and baked in two kinds: the white ‘kourambiedes’ that look like snowballs, made with butter, almonds and topped with white caster sugar, and the sticky ‘melomakarona’ made with fragrant spices, walnuts and glazed with honey syrup. Households also start to decorate their exteriors with bright Christmas lights of all colours and shapes. The interiors will either feature the more western tradition of a Christmas tree that has been successfully assimilated in Greek culture, while some others keep the old Greek Christmas tradition alive by decorating a wooden replica of a ship, which is close to their hearts. This is done in tribute to St. Nicholas, the protector of seamen, which is particularly poignant during the winter season, at times of rough seas.