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Have you always wondered how people celebrate Christmas at your favorite summer destinations? Every country has its own festive traditions and that is what makes them so unique. We have collected some rather unusual local customs that most likely you have never heard of.
Saint Basil’s Cake – Vasilopita
This traditional bread-like cake is served at midnight on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the life of Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis). Even though Santa Claus’s Greek ‘cousin’ did come down chimneys but he spent his life helping those in need. The twist of Saint Basil’s cake is that it contains a coin or trinket that is baked inside of it. Traditionally, the cake is cut by a senior member of the Greek family, and whoever finds the coin is thought to have a good fortune in the following year. It is believed that the tradition originates from the good deeds of Saint Basil who wanted to give money to the poor, but in order not to make them feel ashamed, he asked a woman at the bakery to sneak some gold coins into the bread upon making it.
Breaking a Pomegranate
This delicious fruit has been a symbol of fortune, prosperity, and fertility in Greece and in Greek mythology. According to ancient mythology, Hades (the god of the underworld) abducted Persephone to be his wife. Her mother Demeter (goddess of harvest and fertility) was so upset about her daughter’s loss that she stopped everything on earth from growing. Eventually, they made a deal that said that whoever eats or drinks in the underworld will stay there. Hades tricked Persephone with six deliciously sweet pomegranate seeds, therefore, she had to remain in the underworld. During that period of six months while she was gone the earth stayed infertile due to his mother’s deep sorrow. Ever since that time, pomegranate is being offered to Demeter to bring good harvest and fertility.
According to the tradition, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the family gathers outside and they smash the pomegranate at the door. It is said to bring good luck to the entire household.
Kallikantzaroi – Mischievous Hobgoblins
In Greek folklore, there are mischievous little goblins roaming the towns and villages causing all sorts of troubles for the residents during Christmas time. These ugly brutes stay underground most of the year sawing the tree that holds up the world. However, they rise to the surface between 25 December 6 January during the Christmas period. The appearance of the kallikantzaroi varies by region. Some would describe them as small goblin-like creatures while others would characterize them as tall hairy freaks with burning red eyes and goat-like features. They usually come out at night but are afraid of the holy water. For this reason, priests go around towns and villages to leave bundles of basil leaves dipped in holy water in the houses so the kallikantzaroi would not dare to enter.
We hope that you enjoyed our special Christmas edition blog and we would like to wish you and your family a very happy Holiday Season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year!