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Monday, 21 December 2015

Greek and Cretan Christmas customs

Kala Christouyenna! Merry Christmas! Christmas in Sfakia, Crete

Christmas decoration in Sfakia, Crete
At least 95 percent of all Greeks claim membership in the Greek Orthodox church, part of the Eastern Orthodox church. Until 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were one body. Theological, political, and cultural differences split the church in two, and those differences were never completely reconciled. Despite the power religion holds over everyday life, Greeks are not devout churchgoers. Aside from the special Easter celebrations, services are attended mainly by old women and young children. And the Greeks often defy their church's teachings by clinging to old 'superstitions' or their own beliefs from cultural heritage.
Christmas in Sfakia, Crete
Religious customs are alive and Christmas, Easter and the Assumption of The Virgin (15th August) are considered to be the greatest of religious feasts. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays.
The Major Feastdays
Nativity of the Theotokos8 September
Exaltation of the Holy Cross14 September
Presentation of the Theotokos in the Temple21 November
Christmas (Nativity of Jesus Christ)25 December
Epiphany (Baptism of Christ)6 January
Presentation of Christ in the Temple2 February
Annunciation (Evangelismos)25 March
Easter (Pascha)Date varies from year to year
Ascension40 Days after Easter
Pentecost50 Days after Easter
Transfiguration of Christ6 August
Dormition of the Theotokos (Kimissis)
Assumption of Mary
15 August
*) The determination of the date of Easter is governed by a computation based on the vernal equinox (the point at which the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator, the sun having a northerly motion) and the phase of the moon. According to the ruling of the First Ecumenical Synod in 325, Easter Sunday should fall on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox. If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Easter is observed the following Sunday. The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is 21 March.
Christmas

The Greek Orthodox Church is celebrating Christmas on the 25th December,
on the same date as the Catholic and Protestant Churches.



That Greek date for Christmas was picked because on the same day in the Mediterranean area they used to celebrate a Persian god, Mithras, who was the god of the Sun. And, because the difference between light and darkness is such an important aspect of the December month, all our Greek traditions and customs are still based on that contrast of darkness and light.
Christmas tends to be a quiet, solemn, season. In some areas, the holiday is preceded by a time of fasting. For Greece, the 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. Nicholas (and every Greek Nikos) have their so called name day on 6th December.
On the day and evening before Christmas and New Year's, children sing the equivalent of carols (kalanda) from house to house. These kalandas bless the house. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits.
The word carol comes from a Greek dance called a choraulein, which was accompanied by flute music. The dance later spread throughout Europe and became especially popular with the French, who replaced the flute music with singing. People originally performed carols on several occasions during the year. By the 1600's, carols involved singing only, and Christmas had become the main holiday for these songs.
St. Basil's Day (New Year's Day) is a time for parties and gift giving. St. Basil is the Santa Claus of Greeks.
Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas
St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. Greek ships never leave port without some sort of St. Nicholas icon on board.
After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike. Pigs, lambs and goats are slaughtered, women usually bake ceremonial pastries during this time for the big family meal, served after church services on Christmas Day. Melomakarona are honey-dipped cookies often stuffed with nuts. Kourambiedes are cookies dusted with powdered sugar and very white, Diples are fried dough cookies, dipped in honey.
On almost every table are loaves of Christopsomo ("Christ Bread"). It is a round loaf, decorated on the top with a cross, around which people will also make symbols shaped in dough that represent whatever it is they do in life. If people live on an island and they're fisherman, they will decorate the bread with fish. If they have a lamb farm, you'll see little lambs.
Christmas trees are not commonly used in Greece (but this is changing rapidly). In almost every home the main symbol of the season is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire that is suspended across the rim; from that hangs a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. A small amount of water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day, a family member, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Killantzaroi (Kallikantzaroi or Karkantzaroi) away from the house.

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