Copyright 2004-2016  Carol Palioudaki.  Christmas and New Year in Crete.  Living in Crete
Living in Crete
Christmas & New Year
Index  > Greek Life > Christmas
Christmas & New Year
in Crete and Greece
Epiphany covers the twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas Eve through New
Year to Epiphany on January 6th.

Christmas in Crete & Greece
'XRISTOUYENNA' - in Greek it literally means Christ's birth.

Christmas is the second most important religious holiday in Greece, after Easter. It is
usually celebrated with quiet church services, family gatherings and Name Day

Christmas in Greece is celebrated on December 25th, but presents are usually given
to children on January 1st, St. Basil's Day (Agios Vassilis).

In Greece St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and December 6th is St. Nicholas
Day.  In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as "The Lord of the Sea' while
in modern Greece he is still easily among the most recognisable saints and
December 6 finds many cities celebrating their patron saint. He is also the patron
saint of Greece.
In the past there used to be present giving on this day and boats were decorated
instead of Christmas trees.  The decorated boats are still seen in some places, but
have mainly given way to the western tradition of the Christmas tree.

St. Basil's (Agios Vassilis) name has been given to Father Christmas. St Vassilis Day
is celebrated on January 1st, therefore the Greek Agios Vassilis, or 'Father
is associated with New Year's Day and this is when Greek children receive their
Christmas presents.

Christmas is becoming more commercialised in Greece and the shops are full of tinsel
and trimmings from November onwards. A week or two before Christmas most
Cretans decorate Christmas trees in their homes and many also have an impressive
array of lights hung outside on balconies and in gardens. The town streets and
villages are also well decorated with Christmas lights.  

On Christmas Eve children go from house to house singing carols,  the  'Kalanda'  
(see below).

Christmas Day is usually spent with family and the traditional Christmas dinner may
be roast lamb, pork or turkey without the trimmings! Fricasse - lamb cooked with
egg and lemon sauce - is another traditional Christmas meal in Greece. Loaves of
'christopsomo' ('Christ bread' -  large sweet loaves) are usually found on the
Christmas table, along with Christmas biscuits, 'melomakarana' (sweet honey
covered biscuits) and kourabiedes (icing sugar-coated biscuits).

December 25th is also the Name Day of Christos, Christina and Chrysoula, so many
people are attending, or hosting, Name Day parties on Christmas Day evening.

Other Christmas and New Year
Name Days

26th December  - Manolis, Manos, Manolia.
27th December -  Stephanos, Stephania
1st January -       Vassilis, Vaso
7th January -      Yiannis, Yianna

The 'Xmas' abbreviation  of Christmas is said to come from the Greek 'Xristos' or

The Kalanda
The Kalanda, or Christmas Carols, are traditionally sung on just three days over the
Christmas period: on Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and the Eve of Epiphany.
Groups of children go from house to house singing the appropriate Carol for the day
(there are 3 different songs for each 3 days), usually accompanied by metal triangles
(trigono). They will ask the house owner 'na to poume?' (literally 'shall we sing it?')
before starting to sing; this is in case there has been a recent death in the
household, as those in mourning do not celebrate Christmas. The children are
rewarded with sweets or coins from the householder.

New Year in Crete and Greece

New Year's Day, January 1st, is a Bank Holiday in Greece. The day of Saint Basil or
Agios Vassilis and Father Christmas.

The 'Podariko' - First footing. It's considered lucky for a child to be the first person
to step over your doorstep on New Years Day. The child should  bring a plant called
the 'skylokremmyda' (which looks like an onion with shoots) to leave on the
doorstep, then step into the house right foot first. The child is rewarded by the
householder with a gift of money for the New Year.

Vassilopita - St Basil's Cake/ New Year's cake.
The vassilopita is a simple sponge cake and is baked in nearly every Greek
household at New Year. A coin wrapped in foil (flouri) is placed in the cake before it's
baked. The cake is ceremoniously cut by the head of the household and whoever
gets the slice containing the 'flouri' is said to have good luck for all of the
forthcoming year.

Traditionally Greeks spend the days during Christmas and New Year gambling. New
Year's Eve is THE main gambling time - after seeing in the New Year many will try out
their luck until well into the early hours.  Even houses and cars have been lost over
a card game or the throw of  the zaria (dice)! In all the cafeneons across the land
around Christmas you will find the men sitting around card tables. It is actually illegal
to gamble in unlicensed places but this doesn't stop the owners or the customers!
The cafeneon owners actually charge for the tables by the hour and will go around
collecting a few Euros off each player every hour. The most popular card games are
21 (similar to black jack, but with a kitty in the middle), 31 (similar to black jack but
each player tries to get 31 instead of 21, and 'thanasi' (rummy).
'Zaria' or dice is played with two dice by 2 players in turn and there are set winning
and losing combinations (win 6 and 6, 6 and 5, lose 1 and 1, 1 and 3 etc.). Betting
takes place before the throw of the dice and there is also side betting around the
table .

Epiphany in Crete and Greece
Theofania or Ta Fota
6th January

In the morning or the afternoon of the Eve of 'Ta Fota' (i.e. 5th January), village
priests do the rounds of village homes to sprinkle holy water and bless the houses
and all those who live there - called the "ayiasmos" .

The Feast of Epiphany, or The Solomn Blessing of the Waters, commemorates
Christ's baptism in the River Jordan.

On January 6th waterside ceremonies are held across Greece and Crete at
harbours, lakes and rivers. Boats gather to mark the ceremony and a Holy
cross is thrown into the sea or river by the priest. Swimmers dive into the
chilly waters to retrieve it. It is a great honour and a blessing for the one who
retrieves the cross first.


Crete Hotels are open all year round, including at Christmas & New Year.

Index  > Greek Life > Christmas
Christmas Shopping in Crete
Christmas & New Year opening

(Note: The hours  may vary slightly
according to town)

Shops have extended opening hours
in the week leading up to, and the
weekend before, Christmas. Also
between the Christmas and New Year

Christmas Eve   OPEN  9a.m to 9 p.m.
Christmas Day                 Closed
Boxing Day                      Closed
New Years Eve  OPEN 9a.m to 6 p.m
New Years Day                Closed
Epiphany 6th January      Closed  

For a full list of the extended
shopping hours in Crete for Christmas
New Year see the
Living in Crete blog