Tis the season dear readers (fala-lala-lah-lalah-la-lah!)
Only a few hours away from stuffing our belly with a handful (or two) of mouth-watering Christmas delicacies and while we're still out of a food-comma, thought to share with you a few interesting facts that make the Greek Christmas a tad bit different (and possibly extra fatty!)
In random order, here is what makes the top of the Greek holiday traditions:
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#1 Turkey vs Lamb
By tradition, there’s roast lamb with potatoes and pork on the menu. Stuffed turkey is still very common. What happens in reality? All three; to keep every kid and every relative happy. After all, you hardly find just one main course option on a Greek table, irrespective of season or crisis. By the way, Greek Christian Orthodox religion requires fasting (no meat nor dairy) up to Christmas... Are you up for the challenge?
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#2 The Christmas cookie monster!
As if the savoury menu is not rich enough, the ladies of the house prepare butter cookies called “kourabiedes” covered with caster sugar and honey cookies called “melomakarona” dipped in honey syrup and covered with walnut crumbles, all for Christmas Day - in theory. In practice, we stuff ourselves with these monsters throughout December (and January, if there are any left!)
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#3 Oh Christmas boat!
Yes, that’s right. Tradition has it that Greeks decorate a boat instead of a Christmas tree. That was the way to honour Saint Nicholas, the protector of fishermen and sailors - the most popular professions back in time. Still, decoration of trees and long tree branches is a ritual that goes back to the Greek antiquity and remains the norm to date.
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#4 Shall we sing?
On the mornings of the 24th and 31st December, there’s no need to set your alarm clock - most likely somebody is going to buzz your doorbell early in the morning. Tradition has it that children go from door to door asking “na ta poume?” or else “shall we sing?” expecting permission to sing the carols (the “kalanda”) accompanied by the sounds of the triangle, guitars, accordions, harmonicas and whatever will impress the ‘crowds’. As a return, the children receive sweets or money by the house owner. (It’d better be money, if you don’t want to get black-listed!)
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#5 Santa, baby?
Unlike the West, it’s only due to tradition and not due to the reputation of Greeks doing things the last minute, that children receive their presents on New Year’s Day instead of Christmas. Who they expect? St Basil (Agios Vassilis) instead of Santa Claus. What will he bring? Toys and standard Christmas-y gifts most likely, although some parts of Greece -like Crete- have a more ‘practical’ approach; they gift money. In this way, parents and relatives often find a way out of Christmas shopping with “kali chera” (or “good hand”, as it’s called). This tradition goes back to the days when toy shops were scarce – and where money wasn’t available, children had to settle with pastries, cakes and cookies. (So, no motive to be ‘good’ all year…!)
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#6 Cake with Surprises!
It’s customary on New Year’s Day to cut a cake called “Vassilopita” (which translates to ‘the cake of St Basil’). The cake has a coin hidden inside and the ‘head of the house’ cuts and offers a piece to each family member, to guests and here comes the surreal part: there’s a piece for Christ, Virgin Mary, a handful of other saints, one for the house (or each house!), for work, even one for the pet! As each family member gets a piece, the winner gets blessings and a lucky charm for the year to come! For the winners, this is considered good luck!
Have a wonderful Christmas dear readers & bon appetit!