To the members of the Greek Orthodox Church, Christmas comes in second after Easter. However, this is not to say that Christmas isn’t widely celebrated with unique traditions. It’s difficult to differentiate the traditions between Greece and Cyprus because they are merely the same.
On Christmas Eve, everyone goes to church; children around the villages travel from house to house singing Kalanda (carols) and are rewarded with sweets and fruits from the locals.
As family and friends arrive for the Christmas Day feast, which is much looked forward to following 40 days of fasting, they greet one another by saying, “Hronia polla” (Many happy years).
Pigs are slaughtered and are on most dinner tables, alongside dishes such as roast turkey stuffed with rice, chestnuts and vegetables, or other meats such as lamb.
Sweets and treats such as Kourabiedes (almond cookies) and Melomakarona (honey spiced cookies) are also placed on the table as a Greek Christmas tradition.
On almost every dinner table, there are loaves of Christopsomo (Christ Bread) which is a round loaf, decorated on the top with a cross.
Both Greece and Cyprus share a different tradition to the UK – instead of opening presents on Christmas Day (25th December), the exchange of gifts takes place on 1st January, St Basil’s Day.
On this day the “renewal of waters” also takes place, a ritual in which all water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with new “St Basil’s Water.”
Christmas trees have become more popular but are not traditional. Most houses will have a shallow wooden bowl with a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross hanging from the wire instead. Once a day, someone dips the cross and basil into some holy water to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This is believed to keep the bad spirits (Kalikantzari) away.
Kalikantzari are believed to be a species of goblins or spirits who appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6).
They are meant to emerge from the centre of the earth and to slip into people’s house through the chimney!
The Kalikantzari cause mischief more than harm. Having a fire burning through the twelve days of Christmas is meant to keep them away.
On Epiphany, the ceremonial blessing of the waters takes place.
Young men dive into cold rivers and sea to try to be first to get a cross which has been blessed by a priest and thrown into the water. Whoever gets the cross first is meant to have good luck during the coming year.
Epiphany festivals also include music, dancing and lots of food.
Christmas traditions in the UK
Tis the season for mince pies and bright lights, where the mistletoe can be found hanging by the winter snow and the lyrical sounds of carols can be heard. But where did Christmas markets first begin, and why do we watch pantomimes every year around the festive period?
A pantomime, also known as ‘Panto’, is a traditional Christmas play filled with humour and slapstick entertainment which first arrived in Britain in the 18th century. They’re often based on childhood favourites such as Sleeping beauty, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and other classical fairytales. They have changed over the years, with music and comedy taking centre stage and often featuring men dressed in drag.
Christmas markets may have originated as early as the 1200s in Austria, when Albrecht I granted people permission to hold a Krippenmarkt. Today, London’s Hyde Park Christmas market within Winter Wonderland, holds plenty of activities including rides and attractions for people of all ages. The markets are flowing with unique gifts, jewellery, art, bright lights and cosy foods.
Boxing Day is held across the country on December 26 and it’s said that the name originated in the 1800s when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Boxing day was traditionally a day when people would “box up” their unwanted gifts and give them to the poor.
Traditions have changed over the years, with many hitting annual sales, eating turkey sandwiches and watching football with family and friends.
Wrapped in bright, coloured paper and twisted at both ends, Christmas crackers are usually filled with a colourful paper crown, a joke and a small gift.
This tradition dates back to Victorian times after Tom Smith discovered the “bon bon” on his travels to Paris and decided to bring it back with him to London. A sugary almond wrapped in a twist of tissue paper, the trend took off in London, and the sweet delight sold extremely well that year.
Sales later dipped and in an effort to further develop his idea, Mr Smith decided to place a small love note in the tissue paper. He then added the element of sound to the treat after getting the idea of the sound from a burning log.
Mince pies, filled with mincemeat and finely chopped fruit and liquor, were first introduced in the middle ages and were also known to be much larger than the small pies we are familiar with.
Recipes are now developed for vegetarian lovers and filled with sugar as well as dried fruit to sweeten up the holiday season, as opposed to mutton, beef, rabbit or game which was widely available in the middle ages.
Queen or King’s Speech
The first Christmas broadcast went out to the nation in 1932 by George V. The timing of 3pm was chosen to reach as many countries in the then-Empire as possi-ble. According to the Palace, the broadcast was such a hit, he decided to