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Greek manners and customs

Christmas in Greece
Christmas (Christougenna), the feast of the birth of Christ, is one of the happiest days of the Greek Orthodox Church. Traditionally, the Christmas holiday season in Greece lasts twelve days, up to January 6th, the day of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany). Many customs are associated with the Christmas holidays, some of which are relatively new, "imported" from other parts of the world (such as eating turkey on Christmas Day and decorating the Christmas tree). In the past the Greeks used to decorate small Christmas ships in honor of St. Nicholas and nowadays the number of those who revive this old Christmas tradition is growing and decorating boats instead of trees.

• “Kalanda” or Christmas announcement chants
Announcing Christmas (or Kalanda) by singing is a custom that is entirely limited to this day. On Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, children go from door to door in groups and sing to the upcoming holidays, usually accompanied by a triangle, but also by guitars, accordions, lyres and harmonica. Until recently, children were given sweets and fruit for this, nowadays they are usually given money.

• Christmas gnomes
Greece's gnomes are called "kallikántzari" and are friendly but annoying little creatures that look like elves without wings. The Kallikántzari live deep underground and only come to the surface in the 12 days between Christmas and Theophania. While on the surface of the earth, they love to hide in houses, play jokes, slide down chimneys and scare people. All over Greece there are various customs and rituals to keep the kallikantzari away, who on Theophania, when all waters are consecrated, disappear back into the core of the earth.

• Sweets and customs
Traditionally, culinary delights symbolize happiness in the New Year and decorate the white-covered tables. "Melomakarona" (honey macaroons) and "Kourabiedes" (almond biscuits) are typical and herald the Christmas festivities. Another traditional custom that dates back to Byzantine times is the cutting of the Vassilópita (St. Basil cake or New Year cake). The person who finds the coin hidden in the dough in their piece of cake is considered the lucky one in the New Year.

Christmas in Greek Literature & Poetry & Christmas Celebrations

Easter in Greece

The festival of all festivals
As the most important holiday in the Greek calendar and one of the richest in folklore, the celebration of Orthodox Easter (PasCha) is unique in all of Greece. From Crete to Macedonia, Easter customs are heralding the rebirth of spirit and nature, with Easter celebrations being a living aspect of folk culture, rich in meaning and symbolism.

Easter is a moving festival. Its celebration falls on the first Sunday after the full moon on the vernal equinox. A wide variety of customs and traditions can be observed throughout Greece during High Week, Holy Week. Preparations for the resurrection celebration begin on Card Tuesday. On this day, housewives traditionally prepare special cakes called tsourekia and color eggs red. The eggs are a symbol of rebirth and the color red represents the blood of Christ. It used to be the practice in many households to put the first red egg in the icon shrine of the house in order to drive away the evil spirits.

Friday is the holiest day of Holy Week, the day of the climax of the Passion of Christ with his removal from the cross and his burial. Because it is a high day of mourning, housewives avoid housework that day. Women and children go to church with flowers to decorate the epitaph (the coffin of Christ) with which the Epitaphios procession takes place in the evening. On Saturday morning, preparations begin for the next day's feast and a special soup to break the fast, the maghiritsa, is made.

Shortly before midnight, people flock to the church with a white candle in hand, which they light with the “Holy Light” given out by the priest. When the priest then sings “Christ is risen” (Christós anésti), people exchange congratulations and the so-called “kiss of love”. With the holy light of the candles, most people draw the sign of the cross three times on the top doorpost of the front door of their houses - it is said to bring good luck. Everyone sits around the table, breaks each other's red eggs with the red eggs and wishes each other good luck with “Christós anésti”. The answer to this is “Alithós anésti” (verily, he is risen). On Sunday morning, especially in the country, the lamb is prepared on the spit and people usually eat and dance until late at night.

The Easter banquet
Easter is by far the highest Greek holiday, but also the most joyful: one celebrates spring, the rebirth in the truest and figurative sense of the word. With Greeks leaving the cities in droves to celebrate in the countryside, food is at the center of all celebrations.

The Easter table is a reflection of tradition combined with the seasonality of Greek cuisine. Ingredients, spices and dishes can vary from place to place, but there is one rule that will certainly be followed everywhere: nothing is wasted.
The typical dishes are whole lambs on a spit, cooked very slowly; red colored eggs; braided sweet yeast plaits (tsourekia); Easter soup (magiritsa) and grilled offal roll (kokoretsi).

to travel
Traveling through Greece during the Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Greek countryside and experience some of the traditional and festive atmosphere.

• Visiting the Ionian island of Corfu during Easter is ideal as the city has some of the most sumptuous and melodic celebrations in the country with the City Philharmonic in full action. On Easter Saturday morning, one of the highlights is the dropping of water-filled ceramic pots (botides) out of the window onto the cobblestone streets.
• There is a different custom on the Aegean island of Chios. The residents of the village of Vrontados are reviving the tradition of the "rocket war". After the Resurrection Mass, all of Vrontados breaks into a pandemonium of fireworks that illuminates the midnight sky.
• On the Cyclades island of Tinos, believers from both the Orthodox and Catholic churches carry the holy relic coffins of their churches to the port, where they meet and sing psalms together before each relic coffin makes its own way through the neighborhoods back to the church.

New Greece Dates: Greek Orthodox Easter & Around Greece & Northern Greece

Apokries: The Greek Carnival
The carnival season in Greece, known as "Apokries", is mainly a time of disguises and masquerades, but also a time when people eat, drink and dance. It traditionally begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and reaches its climax on the weekend before “Clean Monday” (Ash Monday), the first day of fasting. "Apokria" literally means "goodbye" at the time of meat consumption or meat abstinence (apo - kréo = away from meat).

Carnival officially begins on Saturday evening with the Triodion opening, the Lenten Triodion (Dreigesang), as it is called, a liturgical hymn book of the Orthodox Church that contains hymns with three odes. From this one begins to sing on "Sunday of the tax collectors and Pharisees" and until Easter Saturday.

The following week is a week without fasting until Meat Sunday, the last day of eating meat before Easter. On Thursday of that week, known as tsiknopempti (charred, smoky, or simply barbecue Thursday, because of the smell of grilled meat that hangs in the air), families and friends gather in taverns or homes and eat large amounts of grilled meat and meat celebrate, just ten days before the Easter fast.

The last Sunday of Carnival is known as Cheese Food Sunday (Tyrofagos), when only dairy products can be consumed. The delicatessen Sunday is the last day before Lent, as the following Monday, the Clean or Ash Monday, heralds the start of the Great Lent. During the weekend leading up to Ash Monday, Carnival events across Greece culminate with grand parades, masked balls and the revival of many traditional customs in different areas of the country, proving that Carnival in Greece is closely linked to the cultural heritage of each region.

Pure (or Ash) Monday is an official holiday in Greece that marks the end of the carnival season and the start of Lent until Easter. When the weather permits, this day is usually spent outside the home, picnics are usually organized and the children fly kites. As it heralds the beginning of Lent, special food is consumed on this day. Red meat, poultry, fish or dairy products are not allowed. However, a variety of other dishes and delicacies are available: lagana (a special, yeast-free flatbread that is only eaten on this day), taramosalata (fish roe salad), dolmadakia (vine leaves stuffed with rice), grilled octopus, gigantes plaki (baked giant beans) , Seafood salads and dried stockfish as well as a special semolina pudding known as halvas are some of them.

• PATRAS: The King of the Greek Carnival
The port city of Patras hosts the largest carnival in Greece and one of the largest in Europe. The “king” of the Greek Carnival begins in January with an announcement by the town crier and reaches its climax on the last weekend of the Carnival. The Patras Carnival offers a wide variety of events: balls, parades, street theater and much more. The carnival reaches its climax on the last weekend of the Triodion: on Saturday evening there is the big foot parade (with participants marching through the streets with torches), while the big, phantasmagoric floral, artistic and satirical floats parading on Sunday, crowned by the carnival - King and Queen in all their glory. But what is special about the Patras Carnival are the thousands of followers of all ages who spontaneously take part in the events that take place all over the city - in private houses, bars, on the street - and turn the whole city into one gigantic party.

• XANTHI: The People's Carnival
The Thracian city of Xanthi hosts one of the most popular carnivals in the country. The Xanthi Carnival started in 1966 as an urban event, but it has many traditional elements based on the multicultural character of the city, making it the folkloric of all the urban festivities. The highlight is the people's parade on the Saturday before Ash Monday: cultural associations from all over Greece come together there, the troops sing and dance through the neighborhoods of the picturesque old town and merge in a Balkan folk music fiesta on the main square that lasts all night. On cheese Sunday the tzaros, a human-like doll, is burned on a stake made of sticks.

• The "old man" from SKYROS
The carnival on the Aegean island of Skyros is rung in with the ringing of goat bells. These are tied around the belly of local men who take part in the carnival procession disguised as "géros" (old man), a figure that is wrapped in a black hooded cloak and a goat skin thrown on. The "old men" run through the streets individually or in groups, singing, dancing and making as much noise as possible, whereby passers-by, whether guests or locals, have to cheer them up and always have to toast, drink and dance with them.

• The "flour war" in GALAXIDI
In the Fokida prefecture, the city of Galaxidi is one of the top destinations, especially during Carnival time. The picturesque little town impresses visitors with its quiet charm and extensive maritime heritage, especially the old captain's residences, the "kapetanóspita". During the carnival, the city revives the old custom of "alevromoutzourómata", which dates back to the heyday of the city's sea merchant fleet and was cultivated to amuse departing sailors at the end of the carnival. On Pure Monday, Galaxidi turns into a battlefield, as hundreds of people mercilessly throw large amounts of flour at each other and dance around open fires, with the bravest even jumping over it.

Carnival in Greece & Traditional Festivals & The Greek "Mardi Gras"

Did you know?

• In Greece, people celebrate the “name day” of the saint whose name they bear rather than their own birthday.
• There are over 4000 traditional local dances in Greece, coming from different regions of the country. There are also pan-Hellenic dances that have been adopted throughout the Greek world.
• In Greece people celebrate the name day of the saint whose name they bear.
• Greeks do not wave open hands. Showing the palm of your hand with your fingers splayed is considered an insult.