Christmas Customs in Greece by Regions - Global Storybook

Christmas Customs in Greece by Regions

Foteini Pagonidou

Foteini Pagonidou

Foteini Pagonidou is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Greece).

Foteini was born and raised in Greece. She loves Greek cuisine and even though she admires her country's history and culture, she always strives to explore other civilizations as well. Foteini strongly believes that a traveler's mind - is an open mind.
She is looking forward to sharing all the secrets of her beautiful country with you.
Foteini Pagonidou

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When December comes, everyone starts to get ready for the birth of Jesus Christ.  The streets of Greece become filled with festive Christmas lights and cheerful crowds.  Moreover, every region has its own separate Christmas customs in our beautiful Mediterranean country.  So let’s see what they are!


“The feeding of the fountain”

At the dawn of the Christmas Eve, women in Thessaly would go to the closest fountain to “steal the silent water”.  Locals call it that way because they are forbidden to say a word all the way to the fountain.  Some would also cover the fountains with butter and honey, with a hope that the running water will sweeten their lives in the upcoming year.

Once the women get to the fountain, they would “feed” it with various delicacies, such as butter, bread, cheese, or an olive branch.  It’s also believed that the first woman to reach the fountain is going to be the luckiest one in the next year.

The women would throw three gravels in a pitcher and return to their homes.  They still won’t speak to anyone, until they drink the water.  They would then sprinkle all corners of their house, before throwing out the gravels.

The feeding of the fountain, Thessaly, Geece - Global StorybookThe Fire Wedding

In numerous parts of Greece, there’s an old Christmas Eve’s custom, called ‘’the fire wedding’’.  Greeks would take two small branches of wood, usually from a spiny tree.  They’d give them two names: one female and one male.  In Thessaly, when the girls return from the church, they would put a few sticks from a lemon tree into a fireplace.  While the boys would place a few sticks from a wild cherry tree into the same pit.

Since these sticks represent their personal desires for a new life, they make sure to select the leanest and beautiful ones.  They would then watch with interest which one will burn faster, as it would be a sign of who would get married first – the boy or the girl.


Christ wood

In some villages of Northern Greece, housewives would select the most beautiful and thickest pine or olive branches on the Christmas Eve.  They call it the ‘Christ wood’ and they would burn it for the entire 12 days of the feast, from Christmas until the 6th of January.  The ashes of these branches would protect the house, as well as the owner’s fields from any possible bad situations.

Traditional Greek Christmas Dishes by Regions

Each housewife must make sure that her house is impeccably clean.  In addition, she has to pay close attention to the fireplace to make sure that no trace of the old ash is left in there.  Some would even clean the chimney, not wanting anything “to come down”, like the evil demons, which many still believe in from the traditional Christmas fairytales.   On the Christmas Eve, once the whole family gathers around the fireplace, the housewives would start the fire and add the new ‘Christ wood’ to the fireplace.

According to an old belief, the burning ‘Christ wood’ would warm up the newborn baby Jesus.

Christ wood, Geek tradition - Global StorybookThe custom of Camel

Each year on the New Year’s Eve, members of the Kavaklis Cultural Club of Thessaloniki would be out on the streets of the city.  They would dress up as camels and shout out various slogans.  Their goal is to deceive the murderous Herod’s soldiers who are searching for the newborn Jesus.

The traditional foufoudes

In the city of Kavala, the Christmas day is celebrated with traditional foufoudes, plus… a visit from Santa Claus.  Moreover, the city’s shopping center starts to resemble a large barbecue on the Christmas Eve.  On most pedestrian streets, as well as sidewalks, traders would set up outdoor grills – the so-called foufoudes, and offer everyone a slice of meat with a glass of red wine.

Furthermore, the traditional foufoudes would be set up on New Year’s Eve once again.  This time though, it would be on a much larger scale.  It would include a big feast with plenty of wine, plus numerous open-air barbecue stands.

One more custom resides in this city around the Christmas Eve – specifically in the Nea Karvali’s area.  It involves a visit from Santa Claus, who just completed his long journey from Caesarea to the folkloric village of Akontisma.  He would usually stay here until the last day of the year.

Burning of the branches

The branches are part of a twelve-day tradition in the area of Voio.  However, the preparation for this custom begins in October.  Specifically, right after the St Demetrius day, on October 27.  Children and young men would run to the fields and the mountain slopes to gather some branches and dry grass.  They’d be mainly looking for a specific type of branches with a special aroma.

The branches are then stored in a cool place and would remain there until they dry off completely and are free from moisture.  On December 23rd the preparation would start at noon.  The branches would be stacked in a huge pile in an open space, where the ritual will take place.  The pile would be lit up in the evening, by the oldest resident of the village.  The locals would then start dancing around the fire.  In some places, men would also hang bells and perform an Ancient Greek Dionysian ceremony.

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In Florina, the inhabitants would welcome the birth of Christ by starting large fires at midnight.  The blaze symbolizes the Bethlehem’s shepherds fire which was used to warm up the newborn Jesus.

Burning of the branches, Greek tradition - Global StorybookPELOPONNESE

 The pomegranate breaking

On the morning of the New Year’s Eve, a family would go to church with the housekeeper holding a pomegranate fruit in his or her hand.  Upon returning home, the housekeeper has to ring the doorbell, but she cannot open it herself with her own key.  She has to be the first one to enter the house while still holding the pomegranate in her hand.

In addition, she has to enter with the right leg first and then break the pomegranate behind the front door.  She would drop it down with full force to break it.  She would then throw the berries around the house while saying: “In health, happiness, and joy the New Year comes to this house.  As there are many berries in the pomegranate, I wish you to have as much money all year round.”  


The Rugatsia

This custom features a boys’ band, which would enter a local house and sit down where the housewives would allow them.  They would then sing two traditional songs and receive some treats in return.  They actually have to sing in every local house until late, during Christmas.  Additionally, when ‘Rugatsias’ are inside a house, all the family members must be there, listening to them.


Kefalonia’s perfumes

On the New Year’s Eve, the local children would put up a fake guard at the entrance of the house, to protect it from the evil spirits.  At noon, Kefalonia’s women would start making traditional pancakes.

During the same evening, locals in Argostoli would go to the church holding a bottle of perfume, which they’d spray at each other.  Upon returning home, they would break a pomegranate at the front door and count the berries.  Each one symbolizes a wish that should come true in the new year.

Kefalonia church - Global StorybookThe Santa Claus boats

In the city of Chios, on the New Year’s Eve, there’s a custom called the ‘Santa Claus boats’.  According to it, the island’s priests must construct several small ships.  These boats would then be compared to each other.  The quality of the construction and the resemblance to real ships will win the day.  The team that made these miniature boats will also sing some traditional Christmas songs to the spectators.

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