Posts Tagged ‘Orthodox Christmas’

Christmas – a Dangerous Time of Joy

December 19, 2009

We all know that Easter is the most important religious holiday of the year in Greece but Christmas is, of course, also celebrated. Anyone that has lived in the country for a while will recognise the lighted boats and Christmas trees, the blinking balconies that make whole neighbourhoods look like a UFO has just landed, and the young children singing Christmas Carols from door to door.

Like most of the customs in the western world, Christmas has a well-documented pagan origin and perhaps the best known one is the Roman solstice festivities, celebrated on December 25.  Another ancient remnant is the superstition concerning the Kallikánzari, evil looking little demons that emerge from the depths of the earth on Christmas Day and remain here for 12 days. Tradition has it that they try to break into people’s houses through the chimneys and if they succeed, they do everything they can to pester the inhabitants: they urinate on the food, extinguish the fire, steal things and turn the milk sour. Tip: when the fire crackles it is a sign of them approaching! To this day, many Greeks keep their fires going all through the holidays to keep the goblins away and they will sprinkle the rooms of the house with Holy Water every morning. Tradition has it that the Kallikánzari are ancient soldiers that were killed in battle but never laid to rest and so, they have turned into a kind of vampires or zombies. They finally disappear on the 6th of January when the Greeks celebrate the Baptism of Christ (Theofánia) by throwing crosses in the water.

During the Christmas holidays children run around in little groups and knock on doors and enter cafes and shops eagerly asking “na poúme, na poúme” (shall we sing?) and if the answer is yes, they race through a few verses as quickly as possible (after all, time is money), accompanied by hurriedly played triangles, to get rewarded with a few coins. These Greek carols are called Kálanda, from the Latin Calandae, the first days of the month, and are about the birth of Christ, well-wishes for the coming year etc. Sometimes the children carry small wooden boats, which again stems from the ancient world. In ancient Greece, children would go from house to houses during these days, singing very similar songs and the boat represented the arrival of the god Dionysus.

For the Orthodox that want to take Holy Communion on Christmas Day a long fast precedes the 25th but afterwards they make up for it by consuming all sorts of delicacies: turkey or pork, sweet cakes and Christópsomo (Christ Bread). Because St. Basil is Father Christmas in Greece, children are not supposed to get any presents until New Year’s Day (St. Basil’s Day) but these days the “rules” are normally bent.

Kalá Christoúgenna to everyone!