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Symbols of Christmas in the national traditions

25 December 2010 / 15:12:28  GRReporter
5160 reads

Victoria Mindova


Every year we celebrate the Birth of Christ on Christmas by decorating our homes, giving gifts to our loved ones or just waiting for Santa Claus to come and leave them under the Christmas tree. GRReporter sought the help of the ethnologist Vaso Polizoi from the Museum of Folk Art in Athens, who interpreted for us some of the symbols of the Christian holiday and told us more about the meaning of the traditions known both in Greece and in the other countries.

I can not help myself but admit that for me it came as a shock the fact that the well know to us all Santa Claus wearing a red suit, black boots and a black belt around his wide waist, with a white beard and white hair is an image created by the marketing specialists of Coca-Cola in the 30s of the twentieth century.

Nevertheless, the very figure of Santa Claus is real and in Greece he is called St. Vassilis, who is a real historical figure from the first centuries of Christianity. He was born in a wealthy family in Caesarea Cappadocia in Asia Minor and after completing his studies in Athens, he returned to his native lands and indulges in Christianity by setting extremely great charity activity. A little later he became the Archbishop of Cappadocia, and he is extremely popular among the people because of the social and public activity which he carries out in the region.

Vaso Polizoi told us that according to the myth around him the city, which was responsible for, at one time was threatened by an attack of invaders. To save the city from destruction, Saint Vasilis has to collect from each resident something valuable, which they possess so that it can buy their freedom and prevent the defeat. Most often these were rings, gold coins, lyres etc. And then came the moment of magic. Attackers suddenly withdrew and the ransom proved unnecessary. "In that period a register of values was not kept and Saint Vassilis found himself in a difficult position to give the belongings back to their owners in the city," said Vaso Polizoi. The Cappadocian archbishop wisely decided to prepare small cakes, in which he was going to put one object and give them to the citizens. Thus the tradition of bread with a coin was born which shows who is the luckiest in the family.

A symbol of health and sustainability is the other popular Christmas tradition that is associated with the bringing of the evergreen tree in the house in the middle of winter. The decoration on the other hand is associated with fertility and wealth which Christmas and the new year should bring to the family. The tree is a tradition known first in Western Europe. In Greece, it comes along with the development of the modern history, when the Bavarian nobleman Oton became King of the Mediterranean country in 1833. Until then, the symbol of life, strength and health during the winter at home gave myrtle, daphne, and even oranges which in winter preserve their green leaves.

If at least once you have visited Greece during the Christmas-New Year holidays, there is no way that you have missed to notice that many shops, houses and even balconies are decorated with small and large boats, instead of snowflakes or trees. The ship is a symbol of prosperity and well-being following the traditions preserved from the islands and coastal regions of the country. As a major source of income and means of livelihood, the boat embodies the hopes and wishes of the families of sailors for good health, success, good catches and a successful trade. "Children from these regions produced their own models of small boats and were collecting gifts which they were given once they sing the traditional songs on the day of the Birth of Christ". Christmas songs in Greece are called Kalanda and with them young and old men and women in the villages had been announcing the good news of the birth of the Son of God. The traditional songs were an important part of the customs, because with them people removed the evil and brought good luck and health.

The specialist says that in the olden days, Christmas songs were performed by the elder men in the village. This tradition is still observed in Ikaria on the first day of the New Year. The songs were selected according to the activity and needs for each family: for the farmers for example a rich harvest, for the teachers traders - a good profit, for the homes with an unmarried girl - happy wedding, for the childless - children, etc.

"Christmas and New Year holidays have a magical spirit that hovers around the birth of the new and the hope which carries the meaning of any first thing," said Vaso Polizoi. The tradition, religion and everyday life are connected together to explain the world and to maintain the fire of hope that tomorrow will come a better day.

Tags: Christmas traditions St. Vassilis Greece
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