Friday, November 9, 2012

End of Year Holiday Traditions in Greece

Christmas in Athens at Constitution Square
What? The holidays already? It sure is! In a little more than a week most of us will be enjoying our Thanksgiving feast. Within a few days we'll be putting up our Christmas trees and other holiday decor. As we approach the holiday season we have family and feasting on the mind. We know you're making plans for your Thanksgiving holiday to be followed by the ushering in of the Christmas season. So today, we thought we'd give you a taste of what it's like to celebrate end of year holidays in Greece. To that end, here is a list of popular traditions. A couple will be familiar to you and some, maybe you would like to give a try with your families this year.

1. In Greek homes, Christmas tree are not common having only recently become more popular. Rather, most families display the traditional Greek symbol of Christmas: a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. Be sure to add a small amount of water to keep the basil alive and fresh.

2. Take the children to see Santa Claus. Yes, you read that right. We Greeks love Saint Nicholas too! You can usually find him outside shopping areas where he hands out treats to children.

3. On Christmas Eve, keep your ears open for neighborhood children singing "kalanda" (Christmas carols). Have a supply of dried figs, walnuts, almonds and coins to offer the carolers who come to your house.

4. Prepare a holiday feast for Christmas Eve. Serve traditional foods and wine with baklava for dessert.

5. Bake loaves of "Christopsomo" (Christ bread), a sweet bread we form into shapes. Many families opt to decorate the loaves with symbols reflecting their family's trade. Serve the bread with dried figs.

6. A family member, usually mother, immerses the basil and cross in holy water once a day and sprinkles drops in every room of the house to keep sprites, or "kallikantzari," away. According to legend, these sprites are slide down the chimney between Christmas and Epiphany on January 6 to play mischievous pranks on the family. The fire is kept burning everyday to prevent entry to these little tricksters.

7. Traditionally, the 12 days of Christmas begin on Christmas day. Remind your children to hang their socks over the fireplace, where small gifts will appear.

8. On December 31, serve "vasilopita", or Christmas cake, with a florin (gold coin) baked into the cake. To have good luck during the coming year, be the person to find the coin in your cake.

9. Exchange gifts on January 1, which is St. Basil's Day. The herb basil is connected to this saint and day, and is believed to have both healing and protective powers. On this day, any vessel of water is emptied and filled with fresh water, as a renewal celebration.

While enjoying family and friends this holiday season – keep in mind that Ziziki’s also offers holiday catering for your event, or private dining if you prefer to dine with a private corporate party or your family. Opa!

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