Christmas is one of the most joyful days and the most significant holidays in the Orthodox Christianity. Christ is born to redeem the sins of humanity and to save people. The celebration of Christmas in Greece starts with a period of preparation and fasting on November 15 and lasts for 40 days. Even though Christmas is not as significant as Easter it is also widely celebrated.
Nowadays Christmas Eve is celebrated in Greece in two ways. Those who have fasted before Christmas celebrate with a vigil in the church, where usually they purge out and on the next day they gather around for a festal meal. In Greece this meal usually consists of dishes with pork meat, stuffed cabbage leafs, different salads and of course round loafs, however without the fortunes. The traditional and main Christmas meal is stuffed chicken or stuffed turkey. On the Christmas table there have to be traditional cookies called “melomakaroni”.
The families who didn’t fast gather around the Christmas table on Christmas Eve. On the morning of December 25th young and old look under the Christmas tree for presents. An interesting Greek tradition, coming from the old marine tradition is the decoration of ships. Today it is more of a memory from the past rather than a usual practice, however it could still be seen in some places. The Christmas tree is an element that comes later in Greece under the influence of the western culture.
After celebrating the great holy events on December 26th religious people gather in churches to praise the God’s mother with songs as the chosen God’s providence: “Come to praise the Savior’s mother, who stayed virgin even after the birth”. The festal period of Christmas ends on December 31st, however its spirit in Greece continues until Epiphany on January 6th, when Christ has been baptized in the Jordan river. With his immersion in Jordan rivers’ water, the Lord takes upon him the sins of all humanity and dies under his burden. The coming out of the water symbolizes His vivification and resurrection.
The holiday, as the Greeks call it, is called Epiphany, Theofania, or “Fota”, because during his baptism in the waters Jordan river Jesus Christ appeared before the world for a service, declared by God Father as His son. The Epiphany is related to the great water ritual, which reminds that on the Jordan river coasts God had revived through water and Spirit the worn out by the sins nature of the people. The services for Epiphany start on January 1st and end with a vigil on January 5th. On January 6th the church carries out an official ritual, accompanied by a parade of the cross and it’s sinking in the water. In Greece, Epiphany is official bank holiday.
Usually if the place is on the sea-side, river or a lake and if there is possibility for swimming, the priest tosses the cross in the water. The one who takes it out first from the bottom and his family will receive a special blessing. In Greece the sanctification of the waters symbolizes their purification from the evil spirits – the so-called “kalikandzurs” - which torture during the holidays all Christians who are afraid of God and prevent the ships from sailing. Nobody knows how those evil spirits look like, and with time Greeks have added to them different negative features – ugly, evil, scaring, dangerous, monstrous creatures with one leg, one eye, crippled, crooked or with some other very vivid defect.