Greek & Mykonos Island Christmas Traditions
After the launch last month of our brand new San Marco Mykonos Hotel & Villas blog we wanted to get in a Christmassy mood by taking you through some of the ways that Christmas is celebrated in Greece and on the island of Mykonos. We have lots of interesting and unusual traditions for celebrating all our major holidays in Greece, and Christmas is no exception! So read on for the San Marco Luxury Hotel & Villas Guide to the Greek & Mykonos island Christmas traditions!
Christmas Carol Traditions in Greece
Christmas carols are a very strong part of the Greek Christmas tradition, and are mainly sung on three particular days of the festive period in Greece – Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and January 5th, the Eve of Epiphany. Christmas carols (also called calanda) in Greece are sung by younger children, who will go from house to house in a group and knock on doors to sing their songs for the households. Mykonos and other Greek islands have strong maritime traditions, and so the children will sometimes carry little model boats with them as they go, and sing carols accompanied by instruments like triangles or harmonicas. As a reward for their singing, the children will be given money (though traditionally was often treats like nuts or sweets). The nautical theme runs throughout the Greek Christmas traditions, with boats forming part of Christmas decorations, though these are increasingly replaced with more ‘conventional’ Christmas trees like you see in movies and on TV. Both Athens and Thessaloniki (Greece’s second largest city) will both often still have an illuminated boat as part of their festive Christmas light displays, and there are similar sights throughout the main squares of towns throughout Greece and her islands.
Greek Christmas Religious Traditions
As Greek Orthodox is the official state religion of Greece, many people will attend a midnight mass on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus. On December 6th Greeks also celebrate Saint Nicholas (who is often linked to Santa Claus or Father Christmas in other parts of Europe and the US), but in Greece he is important as the patron saint of the all-important boats we mentioned above. New Year’s Day is Saint Basil’s Day ( Άγιος Βασίλης), and the traditional day of giving and receiving presents in Greece. Epiphany is also celebrated on the 6th January as the last day of the 12 days of Christmas. This is the day when Jesus was baptised, and it is remembered with a Blessing of the Waters carried out by a priest who will throw a cross into a river or sea for some volunteers to dive into and rescue. The first one to retrieve the cross will have a lucky year. In Mykonos this will mean people diving into a sea that is a bit colder than the one they enjoyed in the summer! Epiphany is also a day for lots of celebrations and ceremonies that involve the blessing of boats as well as traditional Greek music, dancing, and of course food!
Christmas Food Traditions in Greece
Like so many other countries throughout the world, food plays an important role in Greek Christmas traditions. Some Greeks will fast and not eat meat for 40 days before Christmas, and break their fast after the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The main Christmas meal in Greece tends to be either pork or lamb, which is slow roasted in an oven or cooked slowly on a spit. Sweets and puddings are an integral part of the Greek Christmas experience, and there are several delicacies that are synonymous with the holidays. Sweet toothed Greeks tuck into the sugar coated kourabiedes cookies with almonds, or honey enriched melomakarona biscuits with chopped walnuts, as well as other Greek pudding staples like baklava, kataifi or diples. The most important Christmas food in Greece is the Christopsomo (Christ’s bread) with cinnamon, orange and walnuts and a sign of the cross on the top. Families bake the bread in their houses on Christmas Eve, and the head of the house blesses it on Christmas day and shares a piece of it with every person at the table. There is a special food made on New Year’s Day too, this time a cake called a Vassilopita (for Saint Basil) which is a sponge style cake baked with a hidden coin wrapped in foil inside. As with the Christopsomo, the head of the family will bless the Vassilopita by making a sign of the cross over it three times, and will then cut portions of the cake for Christ, the Virgin Mary, the house, and finally the members of the family at the table. The family member who receives the coin in their cake slice will have good luck for the whole year. Sometimes Greeks will also hang a pomegranate above their front door and smash it as the New Year begins, stepping into their houses with their right foot first for luck.
Greek Christmas Folklore Tales
There is a rather unusual festive folklore tradition in Greece involving tales of bad spirits or kallikantzaroi (Καλλικάντζαρος). These naughty little goblin creatures are said to originate from the centre of the earth and enter into Greek houses via the chimney. Once inside, they like to cause mischief and mayhem by doing things like spoiling the milk and putting out fires. Greeks try to keep these spirits away from their houses by always ensuring they keep a fire burning in the hearth throughout the 12 days of Christmas.
Special Christmas Offer for our Readers
All of the team at San Marco Luxury Hotel & Villas want to take the opportunity to say “Kala Christougenna” and wish every single one of our guests a very Merry Christmas and a happy and enjoyable New Year. We’ve had another fantastic year this year, and we’ve taken great pleasure welcoming you all to Houlakia Bay on the lovely island of Mykonos. To celebrate 2016 and to get you all excited for your holidays in Mykonos in 2017 we’re launching one of our Mykonos luxury hotel special offers just for you! If you book one of our luxury rooms, suites or sea view villas before December 31st 2016 we’ll give you a fabulous discount deal of a 20% reduction on our hotel rates. So, if you fancy giving yourself the perfect Christmas gift this year and set you and your loved ones up for a magical 2017, don’t hesitate and book your summer escape to Mykonos today!