In Greece, while Christmas is celebrated on the 25th December, it is the custom to exchange gifts on New Year’s Day instead. Agios Vassilis (the Greek Santa Claus) visits on January 1st, as he is clearly far too busy stuffing his face with baklava on Christmas day and, like most Greeks, would never arrive on time anyway so comes a week later.
The Greeks have slowly become more westernized in their celebrations of Christmas and the usual food will be served up (although turkey is generally replaced by lamb and pork), along with lots of sweet treats involving nuts and honey. In traditional Greek homes Christmas trees are not commonly used and instead the main symbol of the season is a wooden bowl of water with a basil leaf in it.
The basil is wrapped around a cross and dangled from a piece of wire suspended across the rim of the bowl. Each day the cross and basil are dipped into holy water which is then sprinkled all over the house to ward off evil spirits.
This water sprinkling continues for the twelve days of Christmas and on New Year’s Day all the water jugs in the house are emptied and re-filled with holy water. More food will be consumed on this day but the most important dish is Vasilopita – a cake which contains a hidden coin. Whoever finds the coin will receive good luck for the rest of the year.
According to some, the Vasilopita cake should NOT be called “The New Years Day Bread”. Find out why here.
Greeks celebrate the Epiphany on the 6th January when Jesus was baptised. This is known as ‘The Blessing of the Waters’ where lots of young men dive into the sea to try and be the first to rescue the cross which a priest has blessed and thrown into the water. Whoever finds the cross returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household.
So for everything you need to celebrate Christmas and New Year see the list below: