CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS

  

If you are planning to travel to Greece at this time of year remember that many businesses, offices, restaurants, and other amenities may be closed or open at unusual hours, or perhaps even full, such as ferry boats and internal flights!! with everyone dashing to get home to the islands for the holidays to be with their loved ones, family or friends. So make sure you plan your journey well as not to get caught out.

In Greece, the Christmas season is in full swing by December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas, when presents are exchanged, and will last through January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany.

Christmas decorations and Turkeys have now invaded Greek Christmas customs. In the older villages and towns of Greece in general, don't expect Christmas displays, lights, or other decorations, and in some areas, the holiday is preceded by a time of fasting. In these older hamlets of Greece it is still an oasis of non-commercialism when it comes to Christmas. In these villages with whitewashed walls, stone corrals for the precious livestock, and clear starry skies can never be very far in spirit from a night in long ago Bethlehem?

Christmas in Greece is traditionally a solemn and religious holiday, there is never any question about the meaning of Christmas disappearing for western commercialism in Greece. Celebrated with the singing of beautiful carols called 'kalandas' most which have been handed down from Byzantine times add to the reverent quality of the celebration.
 

Christmas elves, or goblins, seem to appear in most cultures, but the Greek equivalent is a particularly mischievous and malevolent character. They are called 'Kallikantzaros' (Καλικάντζαρος) plural 'Kallikantzaroi'. They dwell underground but come to the surface from 25th December  to 6th January, (from the winter solstice for a fortnight during which time the sun ceases its seasonal movement). Descriptions of them vary from area to area and of course dependent on who is telling the story! They are invariably seen to be male and are sometimes thought to wear wooden or even iron boots, all the better to kick you with my dear!!!! 

 

It is believed that 'Kallikantzaroi' stay underground sawing the "World Tree" that holds up the earth, so that it will collapse, along with earth. However, when they are about to saw the final part, Christmas dawns and they are able to come to surface. They forget the Tree and come to bring trouble to mortals. Finally, on the Epiphany (6th January), the sun starts moving again, and they must go underground again to continue their sawing. They see that during their absence the "World Tree" has healed itself, so they must start working all over again. This happens every year.


The 'Kallikantzaroi' are creatures of the night. There were ways people could protect themselves during the days when the Kallikantzaroi were loose. They could leave a colander on their doorstep, if a 'Kallikantzaros' approached for his evildoings, he would instead decide to sit and count the holes until the sun rose and he was forced to hide. The 'Kallikantzaroi' also could not count above two, since three is a holy number, and by pronouncing it, they would kill themselves. Another method of protection is to leave the fire burning in the fireplace all night so that they cannot enter through the chimney. The 'Yule Log' in this case used to be a massive log set on end in the chimney, kept smouldering for the entire time. Little parcels of protective herbs such as hyssop, thistle, and asparagus were suspended by the fireplace, to keep these little demons away. Today of course this has changed into biscuits out for the elves to please them. On Epiphany, the ceremonial blessing of the waters by the local priest was believed to calm down these mischievous creatures until the next year. Perhaps I'll include a recipe for you to make Greece biscuits so you don't suffer from the same fate in your home!

 

The twelve days of their powerful reign is no different to other fairy stories. there is always a "wicked stepmother" where a young girl is forced to walk alone because her wicked stepmother is hoping that the 'Kallikantzari' will snatch her and take her away with them. In Greek 'Kallikantzaros' is also used for every short, ugly, and usually mischievous being.

 

 

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