Christmas in Greece
1st Special Education School of Ilion, Athens Greece
Christmas in Greece is traditionally a solemn, religious holiday.
Beautiful carols called ‘kalandas’ have been handed down from Byzantine
times and add to the reverent quality of the celebration. And can the
remote Greek villages, with whitewashed walls, stone corrals for the
precious livestock, and clear starry skies be very far in spirit from a
night in long ago Bethlehem?
Greek Christmas Traditions
Even though the Greek Christmas is regarded by many as less
colourful than the Greek Easter, the Greeks really have some of the
richest Christmas traditions in the world. If one sees someone at the end
of Advent the traditional wish is "Kala Christouyenna" or "Good
Christmas" yet on Christmas Day the usual wish is not this but "Chronia
polla" or "many years" .
Greeks will normally start decorating their homes a few days before
Christmas when housewives will start making the traditional Christmas
sweets such as "kourabiedhes" and "melomakarana". Christmas cards are
not exchanged between members of the same family living together nor
among friends who live near enough to be wished in person; instead cards
are only sent to those friends and relatives who live far away. As
elsewhere, the Christmas tree is a recent innovation and formerly (and
indeed still on some islands today) a Christmas ship was decorated and
had the place of the tree. This Christmas ship or "karavaki" (ie. little
ship) is sometimes carried around by carol-singers on Christmas Eve, New
year's Eve and on the Eve of Epiphany. It is usually little children who
sing the "kalanda" or carols holding triangles very early on these mornings
for a few coins.
It is really the 1st of January (St. Basil's Day) which is the most
special day for children since this is when they receive their presents.
This is because Father Christmas is not St. Nicholas/Santa Claus but
Ayios Vasilis or St. Basil and so New Year's Day is also St. Basil's feast
Early in the morning on New Year's Day a child (invariably a boy) does the
"podariko" or first-footing by bringing a strange plant called a
"skylokremmyda" or "dog onion" to the house. This is a plant with a few
thick green leaves and a bulb that is wrapped with aluminum foil. The boy
who brings this plant to the house will be given a "bonamas" or gift of
money for the New Year.
Also on New Year's Day there is the interesting custom of breaking a
pomegranate on the door for good luck. A special cake is eaten on this
day called the "Vasilopita" or St. Basil's Pie in which a "flouri" or lucky
coin has been baked. The one who finds the "flouri" in their piece will
have good luck all the forthcoming year. At the meal table there is also a
special decorated round loaf called a "Vasilopsomo" or St. Basil's bread
(which is really identical in form to the "Christopsomo" or "Christ bread"
eaten on Christmas Day. Throughout the "Dodekaimera" or Twelve days
of Christmas it is of interest to note that all houses are vulnerable to a
malicious type of elf / pixy called the "kallikantzari" who play tricks on
housewives, put out the fire and urinate on the Christmas food if it is not
covered at night. They also saw the root of a huge trunk on which rest
the foundations of the world.
The Greek Christmas celebrations conclude with the festival of
Greek Christmas Traditional Recipies
Vasilopita is the Greek New Year's cake. Vasilopita is associated with
Saint Basil's day on January 1 in Greece.
On New Year's Day families cut the Vasilopita to bless the house and
bring good luck for the new year.
It is traditional to bake a coin into the Vasilopita (St. Basil's cake). The
one who receives the coin is considered to be especially blessed for the
year. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any
visitors present at the time. Slices are also cut for various other people or
groups, depending on local and family tradition. They may include St. Basil
and other saints, the Virgin Mary, the Church and the poor.
Vasilopita is made in honor of a beautiful act of charity by St. Basil to
the poor and needy of his flock. In order to insure that the needy would
have money for life's necessities, and knowing that the needy were also
proud people, St. Basil had the ladies of his church bake sweet bread with
coins baked into them. In this way he could give them money without
demeaning them at all.
The tradition of making Sesame Baklava on Christmas eve comes from
the northernmost Greek prefecture of Evros in the region of Thrace but,
even there, it is a tradition that is slipping away. The 40 days before
Christmas day are, for the devout, a time of dietary restriction. Because
this easy recipe is made without the dairy products and eggs that will be
used liberally in so many holiday dishes, it was a favorite to enjoy the night
before the "fast" ended.
Christopsomo (called: hree-STOHP-soh-moh) literally means "Christ's
Bread," and is a fixture in Greek Orthodox homes at Christmas. Great care
is taken when making the bread, and loaves can be simple or elaborate.
Cinnamon, cloves, orange - a traditional combination of tastes identified
with the holiday season - are the common factor in these fabulous cookies
that are (most often) dipped in a lightly spiced syrup after baking, then
topped with sprinkled nuts. In many parts of Greece, the term "Christmas
Cookies" means Melomakarona.
Kourabiethes (also kourambiedes, κουραμπιέδες, called: koo-rahb-YEH-
thes) are sugared shortbread cookies that melt in the mouth! Often made
with toasted almonds, they can also be made with other nuts (walnuts,
hazelnuts). They can be made in circular shapes, crescents, made by hand,
or rolled out and cut, but the one thing all versions have in common is that
they are rolled in, dusted with, or buried under a flurry of confectioner's
Here are some Greek treats for you to try at home!!!
1 cup fresh milk
2 teaspoons yeast
4 eggs, separated
1 cup milk-butter, melted
1 ½ cup sugar
1 envelope mahlepi, crushed
zest of 1 lemon
1 level teaspoon salt
1 kilo flour
handful of blanched almonds
Preheat oven to 180c
• In a large tub pour half a cup of lukewarm milk and dissolve the yeast in it.
Add ½ cup flour and stir to mix. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for
about an hour.
• While the dough is rising, beat the egg yokes with the sugar in an electric
mixer or food processor and set aside. Beat the egg whites into a meringue. To the
risen dough, add yoke/sugar mixture, the remainder of the milk, the meringue,
butter, mahlepi and zest. Knead until all is well mixed, adding the remainder of the
flour a little at a time so the dough won't be too tight. Shape the dough into
several balls, place in a bowl, cover it with a towel and leave in a warm place for
about 3 hours until it doubles in size.
• Knead the dough for 5 minutes more and place in a large round oiled pan (or
two smaller ones) and leave covered in a warm place until it doubles in size again.
• Before placing in oven, beat the yoke of 1 egg with a teaspoon of water and
brush it on the dough with a pastry brush. Then, using the blanched almonds, form
the "new" date on the top of the dough. Bake for about 30/40 minutes, or until
Vasilopita looks well browned.
7 cup of All-purpose unbleached flour
Extra flour for kneading
1 1/2 teaspoon of Baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of Salt
1 3/4 cup of Mild olive oil
1 1/4 cup of Sugar
1/2 cup of Cognac -OR- mavrothaphne wine -OR- ruby port
3 oranges; zested and juiced
4 teaspoon of Freshly ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoon of Freshly ground clove
3/4 teaspoon of Freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound of Honey; (1 lb = about 2 cups)
1 cup of Sugar
1 1-inch piece of cinnamon
1 lemon; zested and juiced
1 cup of Water
1/2 cup of Shelled almonds
1 tablespoon of Sugar
1 teaspoon of Freshly ground cinnamon
Start by making the syrup. Put the honey, sugar, cinnamon, clove, and lemon
zest in a saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Add the lemon juice, then chill.
To blanch the almonds, plunge them into boiling water for 1-2 minutes, until
you see signs of their skins loosening. Then drain and slip or pop them from their
skins onto a baking sheet. Toast them in an oven preheated to 350 F for about 10
minutes - just until they begin to color. Cool, then chop them very, very finely - if
you do this in a food processor, make sure that the pulses are short, or the nuts
could turn oily. Mix the ground almonds with the sugar and cinnamon and reserve.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together. Put the olive oil and sugar in a
large bowl and beat together - with your fingers like Andonia - or with a wooden
spoon. Beat in the Cognac, the orange zest, spices, and juice from 2 oranges
(about 1/2 cup).
Then beat in the flour, a few spoonfuls at a time, until you have a malleable
dough, adding more flour if it is too soft, and more orange juice if it is too stiff.
Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes until very
Pinch off pieces of dough of about 2 tablespons and form into flattened oval or
lozenge shapes. Place them on an oiled or non-stick baking sheet. Bake in an oven
preheated to 400-425 F for about 20 minutes, until brown.
When they are cool enough to handle, dip them in the bowl of syrup for about
1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a tray to cool. Sprinkle with
the chopped almond mixture.
700g (1lb 9oz) butter
300g (1 1/4 cups) olive oil
1/2 cup sugar
3 yolks and 1 egg white
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tbsp cognac
1 tbsp cinnamon powder
700g (1lb 9oz) blanched and ground
1200g (nearly 10 cups) flour
4 cups of icing sugar (caster sugar) in a bowl for coating.
In a large bowl beat the butter and the oil with the sugar until fluffy. Stir in
the beaten eggs, soda diluted in the cognac, cinnamon and the almonds.
Gradually combine the flour with the mixture and knead thoroughly until the it
forms a dough.
Take pieces of dough and form balls the size of a walnut.
Arrange on prepared baking tray and bake for 15 - 20 mins in a preheated oven
180c /350f /Gas 4.
When they are slightly cool, cover them completely with icing sugar. Must be
thickly coated. Arrange on platter.