It is important to note that, for Eastern Orthodox Christianity, December is not only the month in which Christmas is celebrated, but is also the month where a number of important saints are commemorated with elaborate festivities. First among them is St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, Asia Minor (+343) patron saint of seamen, in Greece. No Greek ship travels without an icon depicting the saint (see specific icon on table in the room), and many churches, especially those on the Aegean islands, the coastline villages and towns of Greece, are dedicated to him. Today’s Western St. Nicholas, even though based on the saint’s generosity as a gift-giver to the needy, has little in common with the celebrated bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas, in the traditional sense in the Eastern Orthodox Church is considered more of a great protector of all peoples. Thus, the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, celebrated on the 6th of December, is thought of as the unofficial first day of the festal cycle that leads into Christmas by the people.
The Christmas season in Greece and the Diaspora is largely observed as a religious festival. Families attend church services on Christmas Eve and at daybreak on Christmas morning. Children go from house to house singing the Kalanta.
On Christmas Day, every household bakes the Christopsomo, which is decorated with elaborate frosted ornamentation sometimes representing the family members’ occupations. In some regions, the Christopsomo, together with a pot of honey, is placed in the center of the table, surrounded by dried fruits, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and sweets. The head of the household make the sign of the cross over the bread, wishes everyone “Many Years”, cuts the bread, and serves a slice to each member of the family.
In rural areas, other rituals are performed to insure a good and healthy year to the members of the household, good crops, and to protect farm animals from harm. During the Dodecahemeron period, a priest will often visit homes to bless them – sprinkling each room with a cluster of sweet basil dipped in holy water.
- Christmas in modern Greece and the Greek Diaspora
- The Christmas Traditions of Modern Greece
- Christmas as a Christian Feast
- The Origins of Greek Christmas Traditions
- Traditions of the Dodecahemeron in Byzantium
- Common Folk Practices and Traditions-Christmas
- Greek New Year's Tradititions
- Common Folk Practices and Traditions-New Year's Day
- The Traditional Greek Dodecahemeron Kalanta
- Traditional Regional Kalanta of the Dodecahemeron
- Traditional Christmas and New Year's Day Recipes