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					Christmas Holidays in Greece (Traditions & Food)
Xmas: This abbreviation for Christmas is of Greek origin. The word for Christ in
Greek is Xristos. During the 16th century, Europeans began using the first initial of
Christ's name, "X" in place of the word Christ in Christmas as a short form of the
word. Although the early Christians understood that X stood for Christ's name, later
Christians who did not understand the Greek language mistook "Xmas" as a sign of
In Greece, Christmas, Easter and the assumption of the Virgin Mary are the most
important religious celebrations.The Greek Christmas has almost no difference from
celebrations in the rest of the Christian world. Most importantly, like everywhere else,
Christmas is the best holiday for the children. It means 2 weeks away from school,
presents, sweets, Christmas tree and Carols (Kalanta or Kalanda) .Of course
something people miss most in southern Greece is the white Christmas but the
northern regions have no problem with that as many northern areas of Greece have
snowy winters every year. For the Greek mother or wife, Christmas is a very busy
time in the kitchen. Almost one week before Christmas, in every Greek house, you
can smell the cloves, cinnamon and baked almonds from the Kourambiedes and
Melomakarona- the famous Greek Christmas cookies. Big trays with Kourambiedes,
Melomakarona, Nuts, Oranges and Mandarins are part of the Christmas decoration of
a Greek living room.
The decorated Christmas tree, artificial or natural, is in many houses many weeks
before Xmas with Christmas lights, stars ,angels, and any kind of shining Christmas
ornaments. Also, most Greek houses will decorate the exterior of their house with
Christmas lights, deers, Carol singing Santas and the latest Xmas decorations. In
Athens almost every balcony of the concrete jungle of Athens is decorated with small
illuminated Christmas trees and singing Santa Clauses which are give a unique, if
somewhat kitsch, atmosphere that Athens can have only during Christmas and New
Year's Eve. All this can be more magical if Athens is covered with snow (something
very rare and very short).

                        Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration. From the crack of
                        dawn, children all over Greece get ready for their Carols,
                        equipped with their triangles they go all over the
                        neighbourhoods singing the Kalanda, the Greek Christmas
                        Carol, "Kalin Imeran Arhontes an in o Orismos sas Hristou ti
                        Theia Gennisi na Po sto Arhontiko sas" . This means "Good
Morning Sovereigns if you allow me in your Mansion I will tell you about the Holy
Birth of our Christ". After they finish their song people will give them some money
and both sides will say the wish "Ke tou Hronou" (Next year again). It is truth that the
most beautiful sound of Christmas is the sound of children singing accompanying
themselves with their little triangles. On Xmas Eve many families, as in many western
countries, will celebrate with friends with a big feast and, later on, will play board
games. Traditionally, the majority will play the popular Christmas card game
"Triantamia". In big towns many Greeks will spend the evening in restaurants, music
clubs or hotels with live music and floor shows. On Christmas Day the Greek house
will be busy with the dinner preparation. The main dish is roast turkey, stuffed with
rice and chestnuts.

The holiday continues with the New Year's Eve celebrations, where the home
gathering is the same as in Christmas only, this time, the main food will be mostly
roast pork or lamb. On New Year's Eve the children will sing again but this time the
New Year Carols "Arhiminia ki Arhihronia........Agios Vasilis erhete" (beginning of
the month, beginning of the year.....Saint Basil is coming). On this point I must
mention that for the Greeks, Father Christmas is St. Basil of Caesarea or Agios
Vasilios and not the western Santa from the North Pole. On New Year's Eve the home
entertainments concentrates mainly on card games. The reason probably for this is the
so called Guri (Luck). Which means that if you win that night the New Year will
bring you luck? At 12 O'clock the lights will be switched off for a few seconds and
every one will go out to light fireworks. If it happens that the town or the village has a
port the sounds from the ships are amazing, especially in the Port of Piraeus where all
the ships and ferries hoot their sirens while the whole sky of Athens is shining from
multicoloured fireworks. Traditionally, as the New Year arrives the head of the house,
usually the man, will step out of the door and smash a pomegranate for good luck
and afterwards he will cut the "Vasilopita", the Greek New Year's cake.
In the Vasilopita cake from tradition the Greeks put a coin inside. Depending on your
wealth it can be a gold sovereign or a simple coin. The one that finds it in his piece
will be the New Year's lucky one.

The Christmas season ends on 6 of January with the celebration of Epiphany and the
blessing of the waters. Traditionally during this day (Fota) the Christmas goblins
"Kalikantzaroi», after having annoyed the mortals for 12 days, go back to the centre
of the Earth.

After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great
anticipation by adults and children alike. Women usually bake ceremonial pastries
during this time for the big family meal, served after church services on Christmas
Day. Melomakarona are honey-dipped cookies often stuffed with nuts.
Kourambiedes are cookies dusted with powdered sugar and very white, Diples are
fried dough cookies, dipped in honey.
On almost every table are loaves of Christopsomo ("Christ Bread"). It is a round loaf,
decorated on the top with a cross, around which people will also make symbols
shaped in dough that represent whatever it is they do in life. If people live on an island
and they're fisherman, they will decorate the bread with fish. If they have a lamb
farm, you'll see little lambs.

                        The Greek Festival of Epiphany, or Fota meaning ‘The
                      Blessing of the Waters is held every year on January 6
                      throughout all of Greece. This is the special occasion when
                      many daring young Greek men brave the chilly waters to dive
                      for a cross after it has been blessed by a priest and thrown into
                      the water. For his gallantry, the first man who recovers the cross
                      is said to have good luck throughout the coming year. The day
                      long festival also features the blessing of small boats and ships,
                      and later on affords entertainment, music, dancing and food to
                      all those present. This ritual is believed to keep the Killantzaroi
(Kallikantzaroi or Karkantzaroi) away from the house.

                     Traditions about the Kallikantzaroi vary from region to region,
                    but in general they are half-animal, half-human monsters. "From
                    dawn till sunset they hide themselves in dark places but at night
                    they run wildly to and fro overturning and breaking all the
                    furniture and eating all the Christmas food. The signal for their
                    final departure does not come until the Epiphany, when the
"Blessing of the Waters" takes place. Some of the hallowed water is put into vessels
and with these and with incense the priests sometimes make a round of the village,
sprinkling the people and their houses. Many attempts have been made to account for
the Kallikantzaroi. Perhaps the most plausible explanation is the theory connecting
them with the masquerades that formed part of the winter festival of Dionysus.

                                BOAT VS SHIP

                             Every December, Greece’s
                             second city, Thessaloniki,
                             erects a huge, illuminated metal structure in the shape of a
three-mast ship next to the Christmas tree in its main Aristotelous Square.“The Town
Hall introduced the ship in 1999. “Thessaloniki is a port city and we thought this
would show appreciation for the role the sea played in the city’s economy,” said
Thessaloniki Municipal Councilor. Even the vast majority of Greeks who continue to
stick to the Christmas tree consider it a foreign import. The modern Christmas tree
entered Greece in the luggage of the country’s first king, Otto of Bavaria, who
ascended to the throne in 1833 but the tree did not become popular before the
1940s.The ship, by contrast, is viewed as a Greek symbol. Greeks have been seafarers
for thousands of years and the country is today one of the world’s mightiest shipping
nations.It is true that children on the islands sang Christmas carols holding
illuminated model boats in their laps,” For children, they served as a lantern in the
dark or as a box for presents collected in return for singing carols but in other parts of
the country, children held other symbolic objects, such as miniature models of the
Saint Sophia Church in Constantinople (Istanbul). The Christmas tree, assumed to be
foreign, may even have some Greek roots. Use of decorated greenery and branches
around New Year is recorded as far back as in Greek antiquity, as it is in other pre-
Christian cultures. Tree branches and green bushes called “Christwood” always had a
place in Christian households during the medieval Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Throughout the Aegean, dotted with white and blue islands, Christmas and New Year
are celebrated in many superstitions and customs, one as delightful as the next. Santa
Claus does not live in this sunny country, but instead has surrendered his sack to St.
Basil, a philanthropist from Asia Minor in the time of the Byzantine Empire who, on
New Year's Eve, distributes gifts and candy to good children. Since there are no
Christmas trees, nor stockings hung in front of the fireplace, St. Basil simply places
them in the corner of the living room or on the holiday table. The meal is fairly
simple. Though the tradition of serving a Christmas turkey has been adopted from
northern countries, it is stuffed differently here: with meat, tomatoes and berries. At
Christmas, as at New Year, baked treats take centre stage. For the New Year, don't
forget to hide a gold or silver coin in your cake! At Smyrna, once Greek, the cake is
stamped with the imprint of the Byzantine eagle.

                                 St. Basil cake
The St. Basil cake is traditionally placed in the centre of the table. It always contains
a piece of gold. The honour of cutting the cake falls to the father of the family at the
stroke of midnight, dedicating the first piece to Jesus, the second to
the church. Then come pieces for absent loved ones; finally it is the
turn of those gathered, family and friends, to receive their share,
beginning with the oldest person. Even the baby in the cradle must
have his share of the symbolic cake. In Smyrna the year starts out
under the protection of the Byzantine eagle. Instead of hiding a coin
in step 4, the image of the eagle is stamped on the cake, using 2
cloves to make the eyes.

- Zest of 1 lemon (or 1 orange in the Smyrna version)
- 1 tsp. aniseed (leave out for the Smyrna version)
- Icing sugar
- 400 g (14 oz., about 4 cups) sifted flour
- 6 tsp. baking powder
- A pinch of salt
- 200 g (7 oz.) butter
- 400 g (14 oz.) sugar
- 4 eggs
- 75 ml (5 tbsp.) milk (use 4 tbsp. milk or orange juice for the Smyrna version)


   1. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together;
   2. cream the butter and gradually beat in the eggs, milk and the flour mixture
      until the batter is very smooth; add the lemon zest;
   3. grease a round 30 cm (12") cake pan and line with parchment paper or brown
      paper that has been greased on both sides;
   4. pour the batter into the pan and stick in a gold or silver coin;
   5. bake in a preheated 180° C (350° F) oven for about 40 minutes;
   6. remove from the oven, let cool and sprinkle with icing sugar.


                               250grms butter
                               1 cup of sunflower oil
                               1/2 cup water
                               small schnapps glass of cognac
                               1 egg yolk
50 grms sugar
1 kilo flour (approx)
1.5 cups of ground almonds
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground cloves

Blend the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until white and creamy. Add
the egg yolk, oil, water and cognac with a couple of tblspns of flour, blending
vigorously all the time until well mixed. Pour into a large mixing bowl and fold in the
almonds and flour sieved with the baking powder, nutmegs and cloves. Knead until
well mixed and a dough-like consistency. Shape into flat oval shapes as in
Merikalades (which is the traditional shape) or into any shape that you like. Bake in a
moderate oven 180C until pale golden. When cooked remove from the baking sheet
and leave to cool. When quite cold, dip in sieved, powdered icing sugar until well
coated. Pile on a dish and sprinkle liberally with more icing sugar.



                                   1 small glass of cognac
                                   1 teaspoon of ground cloves
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 cup of fresh orange juice
2 teaspoon of grated orange rind
2 teaspoons of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 can of lager beer
2 teacups of sunflower oil
1 teacup of fine semolina
1 kilo plain flour
For the coating
1/2 kilo crushed walnuts mixed with sugar and cinnamon

For the syrup:
2 cups of sugar
2 cups of runny honey
2 cups of water.

Place all the main ingredients, except for the flour and walnuts, in an electric mixer
and blend until well mixed and smooth. Put the mixture in a plastic ball and gently
fold in the sifted flour until a dough-like consistency is achieved. Mould
the dough into oval shapes by hand, approx 6x3 cm. Place on an oiled baking sheet
and bake in a moderate oven 180C until light golden brown. Whilst the biscuits are
cooking prepare the syrup by putting all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring
slowly to simmering point. When the syrup becomes thickened it is ready.
When the biscuits are ready, dip them one by one into the syrup until well coated.
Layer onto a dish, sprinkling each layer with a generous handful of crushed walnuts
mixed with cinnamon and sugar. Continue layering and sprinkling until all the
biscuits are piled onto the plate.

                        (In Greek pronounced lah-hah-no-dol-MAH-thes)

                        Stuffed cabbage with ground beef and rice are covered with a
                        traditional egg and lemon (avgolemono) sauce. Conventional
                        Greek wisdom is that the best cabbage can be found after the
first frost, so all versions of stuffed cabbage are winter favorites. In Northern Greece,
stuffed cabbage called yiaprakia (say: yah-PRAHK-yah), are made with toursi
(brined) cabbage and ground pork, and are a traditional Christmas dish.

This simpler version can also be made with large Romaine lettuce leaves, or Chinese


      2 pounds of ground beef (ground one time)
      2 whole eggs
      3/4 cups of short-grain rice (or risotto)
      3 stalks of fresh dill, snipped
      sea salt
      freshly ground black pepper
      1 medium onion, finely chopped
      1 tablespoon of olive oil
      3/4 cup of olive oil
      1 onion, sliced in rings
      2 medium carrots, sliced in thick rounds
      2 stalks of celery (leaves only)
      water or chicken stock


      5 egg yolks
      1 tablespoon of water
      7/8 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
      1 tablespoon of corn starch

Mix the ground beef, two whole eggs, rice, dill, one of the onions, a little oil and
water, and knead to mix thoroughly. Add more water or oil if needed. Form into 34-
35 round pieces.

In a large soup pot, bring salted water to a boil. Remove the core of the cabbage, and
stick a large fork into the centre. Immerse the cabbage, leaving the fork in. When the
outer leaves turn bright green, lift using the fork and remove softened leaves. Return
to pot and repeat until all cabbage leaves have been removed.

Using the large outer leaves, place the meat mixture in the leaf and roll, using the
same technique as for Rolling Grape Leaves.

Line the bottom of a lidded pot with the carrot slices, remaining onion, celery leaves,
and the smaller cabbage leaves that were too small for rolling. Lay the stuffed
cabbage rolls, fold side down, on top in snugly packed layers. Place an inverted plate
on top to hold them down when cooking.
Add water or chicken stock to cover, and bring to a boil. When boil is reached, turn
down the heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour.

A few minutes before the cabbage is done, make the avgolemono sauce:

       Whisk the egg yolks and a tablespoon of water. Stir in 1/2 cup of liquid from
       the pot, lemon juice, and corn starch, whisking until smooth. Remove cabbage
       from heat, remove the plate, and pour in the egg-lemon sauce. Hold pot by the
       handles and shake gently to distribute.

Serve warm with a few spoonfuls of the sauce over the cabbage.

                     Greek Christmas Roast Turkey
                           with Chestnut Stuffing.

                           Stuffing Ingredients:
                           turkey giblets - heart and liver
                           1 onion, finely chopped
                           150 grms tomato paste
                           1/2 tspn ground cloves
                           1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
                           100grms pine nuts, finely chopped
                           10-15 boiled and skinned chestnuts
                           200grms of coarsely grated parmesan cheese
1/2 kilo long grain rice
salt & pepper

Fry the chopped onion in a little oil until golden. Add the coarsely chopped giblets
and fry for a few minutes. Mix in all the remaining ingredients and stir until well
blended together. Stuff the turkey with this mixture and secure both ends of the turkey
to prevent the stuffing from falling out. Wrap in foil and roast in the oven until ready.
The length of time will depend upon the weight of the turkey with the stuffing
included. Normally allow 20 minutes per 1/2 kilo and 20 minutes extra. Uncover the
foil for the last half hour to brown the turkey breast.

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