Father Christmas or Russian Santa Claus?

For most Russians, New Year is associated with the Christmas tree, gifts and the smell of tangerines. And what if you go to celebrate the New Year in Greece, on Crete? How are they with the trees, citrus and champagne?

It should be said that even before the New Year, the Greeks, together with the entire Western Christian world, celebrate Christmas on the night of December 24-25, since they use the Gregorian calendar for a long time. Moreover, a visit to the church is a prerequisite for the celebration of Christmas. The godparents on this day must give presents to their godchildren and lead them to church. The whole country is decorated with figures of the Holy Family, festive Christmas trees and luminous boats. Greek children learn something like our carols―“calandas”: these are Christmas songs. Using metal triangles, they sing at neighbors, in local shops and even offices.

Do they have Christmas trees? As many as you like and very unusual ones…

Once, in Greek villages and hamlets, owners of houses went out into the forest on the eve of the three holidays—Christmas, New Year and Epiphany—looked for the strongest fir tree (or olive), which they cut down and brought home. This tree was called “Christoksilo”—the Tree of Christ. It was supposed to chop the tree into logs and burn them in the fireplace throughout the holidays. It is said that even nowadays this tradition is preserved in the villages of Northern Greece, like another one to clean the home fireplace. The Greeks believe that clean fireplace and chimney on the eve of Christmas will prevent evil spirit from penetration into the house in the next year, and in the evening of it the whole family gathers around the fireplace. The head of the family lights the fire from firewood chopped from “Christoksilo”… It is believed that while this tree is burning, Christ becomes warm in his cold Bethlehem cave.

Are there the New Year gifts? Of course, there are they!

In Greece, it is customary to give each other “fotik”—this is a skewer strung on them fruit. Usually they use oranges, figs, apples, lollipops and set a candle above as a symbol of light and hope. At the cleaned fireplace, the Greek children leave their shoes for the night in the hope that they will be filled with gifts from St. Basil: in Greece the New Year is the day of St. Basil or Agios Vasilios, he is also the local grandfather of Santa Claus and is known for his kindness.

The first person who set foot in a house after the onset of the New Year makes a gift to its owners; and in order to accurately bring good luck into the house, he must go in with his right foot.

Vasilopita instead of Olivier salad.

On Christmas, the main dishes on tables are two breads—“Christopsomo” and “Vasilopita”,—and pork prepared in all possible ways. As in many other countries, the Greeks serve to the festive table turkey (or goose, duck, game), which they fill with rice, chestnuts and raisins. The most awaited moment is the cutting of Vasilopita, the traditional New Year’s cake, named after St. Basil. Vasilopita have an intrigue—a coin placed in it before baking. This is “fluri” symbolizing a special success in the coming year. If someone from the work team gets it at a holiday feast in, a tangible bonus awaits him.

On the New Year’s table, the Greeks serve stuffed cabbage rolls, chicken pieces, wrapped with pickled cabbage. Of the sweets on the New Year’s table, there must be “melamakarona”, “kurabiedes”, “diples” (deep-fried dough served with walnuts and honey syrup) and much more. In general, the obligatory delicacies of the holiday table are honey, nuts and pomegranates: pomegranates are also used as a gift, and decoration.

By the way, if Christmas is a family holiday, the New Year can be celebrated outside the home. A lot of entertainment places make their New Year’s program and first of all, of course, the “bouzoukia”—the truly Greek nightclubs with their live traditional music.

And what is instead of the midnight speech of the president?

In Greece, exactly at midnight, …the head of the family should go out into the courtyard and break the pomegranate fruit against the wall. If its grains are scattered around the yard, his family will have happiness and joy in the new year.

Svetlana Zaitseva