Celebrations. Whether you see them as a box of chocolates or a commemoration of a joyous event, it’s something that everyone enjoys and looks forward to. So, when it comes to ringing in a new year and leaving an old one behind (2020 speaks for itself), it goes without saying that it must be done in style. And style is what the Greeks do best. In Greece, the period over Christmas, New Year and the epiphany is one of the most anticipated on the calendar and the occasion is celebrated with traditional customs that have stood the test of time throughout the years. So, if you find yourself in the beautiful country in late December or early January, trust us when we say that you’re truly in for a treat…
Some Things Never Change
An oldie but a goodie – it’s fireworks of course! Just like anywhere else around the world, the Greeks love a firework display to bring in the New Year whether it be in your own garden or gathered on the beach or a public square. Watch in awe as bright colours cascade through the night sky when the clock strikes midnight, and the tradition is to continue your night in good company at home or at the bars and clubs with loved ones. In Athens, the fireworks descend over the majestic Acropolis which is nothing less than a magical moment that will have you in jaw-dropping awe.
Fruit and Vegetables
You might not think that New Year’s is the time to be healthy what with all the festive food and drink, but a celebration in Greece means something slightly more nutritious – but not in the way you might think. Pomegranates hold great significance in the Greek culture and are considered a sign of renewal and regenerating and are given as gifts over the festive season as a sign of good luck. Tradition states that the fruit is to be hung over the front door over the holiday season and when the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, everyone must turn off the lights and exit the house. Then, a chosen member of the household – usually a child as they are considered innocent and of good heart – re-enters the house, putting their right foot forward (known as the kalo podariko) and smashes the pomegranates against the front door. It is said that the more seeds scattered on the floor, the more luck the household will have over the coming year.
Pomegranates aren’t the only thing that’s hung above the door in Greek households, expect to find a few onions beside them too. The onions are also said to be a symbol of growth and rebirth and after the New Year’s Day church service, the family returns home to hang their vegetables to ensure the new year is filled with good luck and blessings.
As you can probably tell, many of the Greek traditions are in place to encourage good luck for the new year so what better way to test the odds than playing a game of cards or twenty? Card playing is a marathon in Greece on New Year’s Day with games usually beginning in the early evening and lasting well into the early hours of the morning. While families usually gather to play, local tavernas tend to organise game sessions amongst the community but not a lot of money is betted due to the premise of the games being good luck. For a little extra potential fortune, many people buy lottery tickets and keep their fingers crossed.
A Gesture of Good Will
Saint Basil the Great (or Agios Vasilis) is a prominent figure in Greek New Year, considered to be one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church and a symbol of hope to those in poverty. In honour of this important Saint, donations are made to charities and gifts are exchanged which is an example of Kali Hera, meaning good hands. It’s customary for adults to give money to their children or youngest relatives. Additionally, vasilopita is another important tradition, a cake made only at the New Year with a coin hidden inside and slices are served to the family from the eldest to the youngest, with three additional slices cut symbolically for Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint Basil. Whoever finds the coin receives money and is blessed with good luck for the New Year.
The Celebrations Continue
As if Christmas and New Year’s Eve wasn’t filled with enough joy, the Epiphany (also known as Fota or Theofania) is celebrated on January 6th and is one of the most sacred Greek Orthodox events. Epiphany is the commemoration of the revelation of God as Jesus Christ and is celebrated by both the Eastern and Western Church while in Greece, the customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. These ceremonies are held on beaches, lakes and rivers and a cross is thrown into the water by a Greek Orthodox priest, followed by boys and men competing to retrieve it so they can have good luck throughout the year. There are many additional traditions observed around the country including the Fotarades ritual in Halkidiki, the Roagkoutsaria ritual in north-eastern Greece and the tradition of Arapides in mainland villages which entails men walking around the countryside wearing sheepskin and carrying dozens of bells.
From rituals of good luck to classic fireworks, there’s no such thing as a boring festive period in Greece. No matter which area of the glorious country you visit, you’re positive to bring in the New Year with a bang – it’ll certainly be a year that you’ll never forget.