It’s December and the festive season is fast approaching in all corners of the world. In Greece, all the towns will embellish their homes, squares and shops with a kaleidoscope of colours and twinkling lights, and cheerful tunes will be heard on the streets.
A very Greek tradition, dating back to ancient times, is to decorate olive or bay tree branches with red and white woollen ribbons as a way of thanking the Gods for the rich crops and wishing for an equally good harvest for the coming year. These decorated branches would be hung over doorsteps until the beginning of the following year.
Nowadays Christmas trees are popular among the Greeks but being a maritime nation it became customary, especially in the islands, for children to decorate small model boats instead of trees. The children carry the decorated boats with them while they go from house to house on Christmas eve to sing the kalanda (Christmas carols), accompanied by drums and little metal triangles. Any offered treats are placed in their boats ready to be enjoyed later.
Another holiday tradition stemming from ancient times features the pomegranate, a symbol of good fortune, eternal youth and fertility. According to myth, Persephone the beautiful Goddess of the Underworld and the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, tasted the fruit during her stay in Hades, linking her to the Underworld for part of the year (winter), before she returned to the world in the Spring; since then the pomegranate signified the regeneration of nature and the cycle of seasons.
On New Year’s Day Greek households throw a pomegranate outside the front door of their home, in a way that ensures the seeds spread everywhere, in order to bring happiness and good health to the household.
Why not give it a go, break a pomegranate on your doorstep and make a wish for the New Year!
Written by Myrto Toufexi Kleovoulou, Partner, OMDMC Greece
See our Flavours of the Festive Season Pinterest board.