Santorini at Christmas time
Christmas is quickly approaching and nowhere else do they celebrate the holiday season quite like in Greece. The residents of Santorini already started the preparation by decorating their festive boats, baking honeyflavoured cookies and baking traditional Christmas bread.Learn more about the unique Christmas traditions on this stunning Medierranean island.
Greeks start the preparation for Christmas rather early. In some homes, the Christmas tree is already set up in the middle of November. However, it was not like that in the old times. Traditionally, the main ornament used to be a lit-up decorated festive boat (karavaki) which is slowly but surely making a comeback these years. These festive boats are deeply rooted in the traditions of the country which has a symbiotic relationship with the sea. Boats are decorated to honour St. Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos), the patron saint of the sailors. They are usually set up in Greek homes and displayed on the main square of the villages and towns on the 6th of December (the day of the saint) and remain there until Epiphany, 6th of January.
Christmas carolling is a common and popular festive traditions in many countries. However, in Greece, children flock from home to home not only on Christmas Eve but also on New Year’s Eve and the day of Epiphany. The tradition, called kalanta in Greek, originates from the Byzantine times and its name can be translated to ‘start of the month’. The children sing enchanting festive songs accompanied by accordion or guitar and receive money of candies for their performance. When they ring the bell and the family opens the door, the children would yell “na ta poume?” (shall we sing?) waiting for their audience’s approving nod. Once the carol is over, they wish the residents good health, happiness and prosperity.
Interestingly, gifts are not exchanged on Christmas day in Greece but most people wait until the day of St. Basil (Agios Vasilis) to surprise their loved ones. St. Basil can be considered the Greek version of Santa Claus. Although the saint was said to come from a wealthy family, he had a heart for the poor and the underprivileged. St. Basil was known for his generous nature. According to the legend, once the taxcollector overtaxed the people in his town to the extent that they were compalled to sell their jewellry and other valuable belongings. It greatly upset St. Basil who wanted to help the residents without openly shaming them in public by offering them money. Instead, he came up with the clever idea of baking cakes and placing some coins into each. Then he proceeded to gift them to the people in need, and thus, he managed to take the huge burden off ther shoulders.
Christmas is all about delicious food, shared with friends and family. The holiday feast is usually homecooked in Santorini and consists of a long array of dishes. Greeks often start the dinner with egg and lemon chicken soup (avgolemono). The two most popular main dishes are stuffed cabbage, in which the leaves symbolize the clothes Baby Jesus wore, and roasted pork or lamb. Of course, no feast is complete without desserts. The two sweets you will find in every Greek households during Christmas time are melomakarona, cookies soaked in honey syrup, and kourabiethes, almond shortbread cookies. Last but not least, vasilopita is also an unmissable part of the Greek holiday celebration. According to the tradition, the person who finds the hidden coin in the cake will be gifted with good fortune throughout the entire year.