As I unpack my beloved Christmas ornaments and decorations for the last time in New York, I ponder how our future Christmas celebrations in Mykonos will be. I’m carefully choosing which ones will make the trip to our permanent Mykonos home this coming year.
Christmas has always been a very special time for me. Each year we add one new tree ornament that has some special meaning to us for the past year. There’s 34 of them now! Nikos and my families are spread out over different countries. Without family nearby, we traditionally gather our family of friends each year for a wonderful sit down dinner. It’s usually about 30 people who can’t imagine not celebrating Christmas with us…(I should mention that more than half are Jewish!).
I know without hesitation that we will be gathering our many Mykonian friends together in the same Christmas spirit we are accustomed to, but am also looking forward to perhaps incorporating some true Greek Christmas customs as well. Here’s some that I know of.
Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on December 25th like the Catholics and Protestants. The “holidays” refers to Christmas, New Years and Epiphany on January 6th. It is not as commercialized and tends to be kept in the true spirit of the holidays. I usually take my tree down on New Year’s Day, but in Greece they keep it up until January 6th. The Greek name for Christmas is Christougena which literally means Christ’s birth. To say “Merry Christmas in Greek, you say “Kala Christougena”
Christmas Boat (Karavaki)
The decoration of the Christmas tree is not a Greek habit. It is said that the first Christmas tree in Greece was decorated by the Bavarian king Otto in 1833. Modern day Greeks now decorate Christmas trees but the Christmas Boat is having a comeback. Those who know me well, should expect to find a boat or two around my greek home! (Yes, I’ll also have a tree.)
In Greece, according to the tradition, they decorate a boat, mainly on the islands. Greeks, a seafaring nation, combined the celebration of Christmas with the sea. The decoration of the ship was also a kind of honor and welcome to the sailors returning home to celebrate Christmas with their families. The boats were arranged on the floor, or next to the fire, with their bows pointing inwards, symbolizing the homeward journey. Young children make paper or wooden boats and go door to door with them Christmas Eve while singing carols. They would be rewarded with treats.
Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Sailors is another suggestion for the boat tradition. Some say the boats are decorated in his honor as an insurance for bringing the seamen home safely. The Karavaki boat also symbolizes sailing towards the new life that follows the birth of Jesus Christ.
Now, large Christmas boats can be seen in many cities that are embracing the old tradition. The one below is in Athens.
You will find lots of delicious sweets and breads!
melomakárona (honey-dipped cookies often stuffed and sprinkled with walnuts.
kourambiéthes (sweet cookies with almonds and dusted with powdered sugar).
thiples (a kind of fried pastry).
Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread)
It’s a round sweet bread which is flavored with cinnamon, orange and cloves. The top is decorated with a cross. The bread is made on Christmas Eve ready to be eaten on Christmas Day. In Greece, you will definitely see these wonderful sweets in the pastry shops and bakeries!