In different regions of Greece, there are different customs and traditions, and Christmas is no exception.
Here are some old customs from several parts of Greece.
On midnight on Christmas Eve, in the villages of central Greece, the “feeding of the tap” takes place. In this old tradition, the girls of the village would go to the taps (water fountains) of the village, bringing butter and honey, and make a wish: “as runs the water also runs the prosperity in the house and may the new year be as sweet as honey.” Then, they take from the tap “speechless” water.
To insure a good harvest the following year, they would present the butter, as well as cheese and cooked wheat or legumes, and then bring them back into the house. The first one to get to the tap would be the luckiest of all.
Then they would gather new water and bring it back home, and then replace all the old water, in a sort of a renewal process. This all happens silently, thus the naming of “speechless” water. This new water is then sprinkled throughout the house for good luck.
Upon returning home from church, young boys and girls would place small bunches of cedar into the fireplace. These bunches represent their personal wishes. Whoever’s bunches burn first, welcomes good omens. Also, it is believed that the one who’s branch is completely burned first, would be the first one to wed.
Old Greek Custom
The Christoksilo or Dodekaimeritis is a precursor to today’s Christmas tree. It is typically the fat timber from a pear tree or cedar. The horns of the trees are said to keep away demonic beings, such as goblins. On the Christmas Eve, the Christoksilo is placed in the fireplace. The burned ash protects the house and the fields from villains.
It is said that when the Christoksilo burns, that Chris is warm in his crib.
The Christmas tree, which originated in Germany, has replaced the Christoskilo in Greece as it has in many European countries.
On the eve of feasts, the head of the household would search in the fields for the most beautiful and heartiest timber from pine or olive trees, and bring it home. This timber, called Christoskilo, was burned in the fireplace for all 12 days of the holiday season (Dodekaimero). While the husband was out searching for the timber, the wife would clean the house, and make sure there were no traces of old ashes in the fireplace. Even the chimney was thoroughly cleaned.
When the husband returned with the Christoksilo, the entire family would gather around the fireplace as he ceremoniously placed it in the fireplace and started the fire.
Christmas in Athens
Years ago, Christmas was not a big deal in Greece. Easter was always the major holiday. This has slowly changed. In Greece, it is typical these days to see elaborate decorations, and lights strung on major streets and in towns.
A few years ago, former Athens Mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos took it up a notch, when he erected the largest Christmas tree in all of Europe; the tree towered over Syntagma Square. There was also a show, which was quite an extravaganza, featuring many of Greece’s most famous entertainers. This new tradition continues today, and Athenians flock to the streets on Christmas Eve to enjoy the decorations and the entertainment.
Traditional Christmas foods include pork (though some eat lamb or goat), turkey, and loaves of Christopsomo (Christmas bread). The remainder of the meal may be rounded out with traditional favorites such as Spanakopita (spinach pie) and Pastitsio (Greek-style lasagna), Dolmades (stuffed grape vine leaves) and of course, salad, cheese and olives. It wouldn’t be a holiday without sweets, and typical ones are Melomakarona, which are macaroons dipped in honey and sprinkled with nuts; Kourambiedes, a delicate butter cookie sprinkled with powder sugar; as well as Diples, fried dough dipped in honey. Depending on specific family customs, there could be Kataifi and Baklava or other foods as well.
And don’t forget the wine!
Related: Recipes foe Greek-style Roast Turkey, Christopsomo, Melomakarona and Kourambiedes
This article was originally written and published in 2006.