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Christougena, as Christmas is called in Greece is one, if not the most celebrated holiday of the year. Here is a brief description of how the Greeks celebrate Christougena. I did introduce a few English traditions into our Greek home, but there were many traditions that have become a firm fixture in Greek homes that date back many years.
Christougena, has it’s own version of Santa Claus, Saint Vasilis, he visits homes on New Years Eve to deliver a few small gifts to the children.
On the 24th December all the children attend a Carol Concert early in the morning and are given sweet, cakes but most importantly cash which they all then flock to the local toy shop with to spend on toys.
On Christmas Day virtually everyone attends church, returning home for a late breakfast consisting of fried pork chops and fish as a celebration of the end of a 30 day fast. The feast continues for much of the day with a late lunch of Turkey. This is not served with the traditional trimmings that we know, but would be served with Tzatziki, green salad and lemon roasted potatoes. Family gather together to sing and dance, the general unspoken rule the women clear up and attend to the children whilst the men slope of to the nearest cafenion ( coffee shop come bar).
The Greek twelve days of Christmas begins at Christmas and continues until January 6th, which is known as the Feast of Epiphany. During this time an open fire is always burning in the home to ward of any evil spirits. Often herbs such as thistle are hung above the fireplace, because they are considered to be ‘protective’. These evil spirits are the nearest equivalent to the Christmas elves familiar in other traditions.
These Greek ‘elves’ are called Kallikantzari, and are believed to be evil spirits who target people during the twelve days of Christmas.
Christmas in Greece is a very religious holiday. Everyone is fully aware of and celebrating advent and the birth of Christ. People of all ages understand that the true reason for celebrating Christmas, is to celebrate the birth of Christ and is not just about exchanging gifts.
New Year's Eve is the time that Aghia (saint )Vassilis ( Father Christmas in Greek ) delivers presents to the children so it was very confusing to my own children that Father Christmas had already been on Christmas Day but I'm pleased to say that they both now live in England and relish the traditional English Christmas but deeply respect their Greek upbringing
so to continue to incorporate the Greek traditions into their celebrations. On New Year's Eve all the children again go singing round the neighbourhood to welcome the arrival of Aghia ( saint )Vassilis
New Year's Day is celebrated with a feast with all the family gathering together followed by a Vaselopita Cake which is cut into pieces and distributed among the family with the first piece is dedicated to Christ and second piece to the family house and the remaining pieces are then distributed among the family members and the one who finds the hidden coin in its piece of Vaselopita is considered to have good luck and wealth in the entire coming year. Whatever your own believes or traditions I would like to extend the Seasons Greetings and hope that you are able to spend time enjoying the company of your friends and loved ones.