Greek Christmas recipes
A traditional Greek Christmas
Although the Greek orthodox religion is a Christian religion, they have many differences regarding the well known Christmas traditions. I grew up waiting each year for Father Christmas to visit my house on the 24th December (Christmas Eve) and to leave all the beautiful presents underneath the Christmas tree. A traditional Christmas dinner was served on Christmas day (the 25th December) and I would open all my presents with my family, find our Christmas stocking full up with small goodies, pull crackers, eat mince pies, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding with a coin inside it etc.
Once we came to Greece, when Christmas time arrived, gifts were no longer given on the 25th December but on the 1st January. Christmas was no longer the greatest celebration of the year but Easter Sunday was.
Christmas in Greece is quite different to other European countries. The Greeks call father Christmas Ayios Vasilis (Saint Vasilis), the saint’s name day celebration is on the 1st of January. All presents are given on that day. Children wait for New years eve for Ayios Vasilis to visit and to leave their presents underneath the Christmas tree. The first of January is celebrated as the first day of the year and the day that all children accept their presents.
For the Orthodox Christians, Santa Claus dates back to Basil the Great (Ayios Vasilis), who lived in Cappadocia which is the capital of Caesarea (an ancient city of the Byzantine years) he spent almost his entire life helping his fellow man and is in world history as the initiator and first author of organized philanthropy. According to tradition, St. Basil the Great was a lanky, with black eyes and a white beard. Even St. Nicholas in the Orthodox tradition of iconography was a gaunt old man with a white beard. The Saint Basil died on January 1, 379. This date, the day of his death, he maintained this tradition. it was (first) of all Christian people that bring blessing and good luck into the new year. The New Year carol praises the main character (Ayios Vasilis) is mentions the Great Kingdom whose work is a reminder to every landlord to resume course for the benefit of children that sing the carols to them.
Saint Basil (Ayios Vasilis) was similar to Saint Nicolas (Ayios Nicolas) in history for their generosity. Today’s picture of Santa Claus or Ayios Vasilis with his large red coat, red trousers, white beard and red hat started to be popular in the year 1931 when the well known american coca-cola company introduced Santa Claus dressed like this and holding a huge brown sack. Before that Ayios Nicolas or Santa Claus was known as a thin old man dressed as any other man that shared around presents.
The story of Ayios Nicolas is told in the traditional Greek Christmas carols that you can find below translated into 2 languages.
ΚΑΛΑΝΤΑ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥΓΕΝΝΩΝ(TRADITIONAL GREEK CHRISTMAS CAROLS)
On Christmas eve, usually in the morning hours the Greek tradition is that young children go out to sing carols, they will knock on doors and enter shops and shout out ” na ta poume” which means should we say it? Everybody says yes as Christmas is a time for children. They will usually sing a couple of the verses of this Christmas Carol (depending on the ages of the children) and when they are finished they will wish you a merry Christmas, then some people give them a Christmas biscuit but most people give them coins. Listen to the song in the video below and take a look at the translated lyrics below each video.
Καλήν ημέραν άρχοντες, Good morning land-lords
αν είναι ο ορισμός σας If it is your will
Χριστού τη θεία γέννηση Christ the God’s birth
να μπω στ’ αρχοντικό σας. For me to tell your house hold
Χριστός γεννάται σήμερον Christ was born today
εν Βηθλεέμ τη πόλη in the town of Bethlehem
οι ουρανοί αγάλλονται the skies are rejoicing
χαίρε η φύσις όλη. All of nature is happy.
Εν τω σπηλαίω τίκτεται Inside the cave he was born
εν φά- εν φάτνη των αλόγων in the horse manger
ο Βασιλεύς των ουρανών The King of heaven
και ποιητής των όλων. The creator of everything.
Πλήθος αγγέλων ψάλλουσι Many angels are singing hymns
το δο- το δόξα εν υψίστοις Joy to the heavens
και τούτο άξιον εστί and this happening was discovered
η των η των ποιμένων πίστις. from the beleive of the shepherds
Εκ της Περσίας έρχονται From Persia they are arriving
τρεις μά- τρεις μάγοι με τα δώρα three prophets holding presents
άστρο λαμπρό τους οδηγεί a bright star is showing them the way
χωρίς χωρίς να λείψει ώρα without it dissapearing at all.
Έφτασαν εις Ιερουσαλήμ They have now arrived in Jerusalem
με πο- με πόθον ερωτώσι And with passion they ask
που εγεννήθει ο Χριστός Where is Christ being born
να πα- να παν’ να τον ευρώσι In order for them to find him.
Δια χριστόν ως ήκουσεν About Christ he just heard
ο βα- ο βασιλεύς Ηρώδης The king Herodes
αμέσως εταράχθηκε He immediately was aware
κι εγι- κι έγινε θηριώδης And he became furious
Ότι πολλά φοβήθηκε Because he was very afraid
δια την, δια την βασιλείαν For his position as King
μην του την πάρει ο Χριστός For Christ not to bethrone him
και χα- και χάσει την αξίαν. And he lose his position.
Σ’αυτο το σπίτι που ‘ρθαμε To this house that we came today
πέτρα να μη ραγίσει A stone should never crack it
κι ο νοικόκύρης του σπιτιού And to the landlord of the house
χρόνια πολλά να ζήσει. We wish him to live for many years.
ΚΑΛΑΝΤΑ ΠΡΩΤΟΧΡΟΝΙΑΣ NEW YEARS CAROL
On the 31st of December usually in the morning hours, the Greek tradition is that young children go out to sing New year carols, they will knock on doors and enter shops and shout out ” na ta poume” which means should we say it? Everybody says yes as it is a time for children. They will usually sing a couple of the verses of this New years Carol (depending on the ages of the children) and when they are finished they will wish you a Happy New Year, then some people give them a christmas biscuit but most people give them coins. Listen to the song in the video below and take a look at the translated lyrics below the video.
Αρχιμηνιά κι αρχιχρονιά ψηλή μου δενδρολιβανιά. First of the month and first day of the year, my tall Christmas tree
Κι αρχή-κι αρχή καλός μας χρόνος And the beginning of the new year
εκκλησιά-εκκλησιά με τ’ άγιο θρόνος. Church with the holy throne.
Αρχή που βγήκε ο Χριστός άγιος και πνευματικός In the beginning, when Christ appeared as a holy saint
στη γη-στη γη να περπατήσει to walk upon the earth
και να μας-και να μας καλοκαρδίσει. and to welcome us with his heart.
Άγιος Βασίλης έρχεται -άρχοντες το κατέχετε- Santa Claus is coming-land lords do you realise that-
από-από την Καισαρεία From Caeserea
σύ ‘σ’ αρχό- συ ‘σ’ αρχόντισσα κυρία. You are the land lady of this house
Βαστά εικόνα και χαρτί ζαχαροκάρνο, ζυμωτή He is holding a picture and a paper, a shaped piece of rock (candy)
χαρτί και καλαμάρι a paper and a quill
δες και με-δες και με το παλικάρι. Look at me, a young man
Το καλαμάρι έγραφε, τη μοίρα του την έλεγε The quill wrote, he was writing about his fate
και το χαρτί-και το χαρτί ομίλει and the paper speaks for its self
Άγιε μου-άγιε μου καλέ Βασίλη. Saint Vasilis (Father Christmas)
Και νέον έτος αριθμεί and the new year he is counting in
την του Χριστού περιτομή and Christ’s circumcision
και η μνήμη του Αγίου and the memory of the saint
Ιεράρχου Βασιλείου. Hierarchy Vasilis
Του χρόνου μας αρχή καλή A good start to the year
και ο Χριστός μας προσκαλεί and Christ is inviting us
την κακία ν’ αρνηθούμε to deny all evil
μ’ αρετές να στολιστούμε. and with joy to decorate ourselves
Να ζούμε βίον τέλειον To live a good life
κατά το ευαγγέλιον as the bible states
με αγάπη με ειρήνη with love and with peace
και με τη δικαιοσύνη. and with justice
Χρόνια πολλά και ευτυχή Many years of joy we wish you
με καθαρά κι αγνή ψυχή with a clean and innocent soul
με χαρά και με υγεία with joy and happiness
και με θεία ευλογία. and with a blessing from God.