St. Nicholas Tradition: Hagios Nikolaos, the country's patron saint of sailors and fishermen.
Highlighted Custom: Christopsomo, "Christ Bread"
more information here)
St. Nicholas and the Three Poor Girls, by Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis. Today, children in many countries eagerly await gifts from St. Nicholas. In this memorable story, the saint's humble, secret charity surprises three sisters and saves them from a terrible fate. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appears in their home - providing much needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed by Nicholas through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. The book and gold foil wrapped coins are available from Paidea Classics. (type "gold coins" into the search box for different flavors and packaging.)
At Christmas, to honor St. Nicholas, many small fishing boats are decorated with blue and white lights (which are also the colors of the Greek flag).
|Christopsomo, "Christ Bread"|
Christmas morning usually starts with an early liturgy at Greek Orthodox churches all over the island. "Today, the Virgin bears Him who is transcendent, and the earth presents the cave to Him who is beyond reach. Angels, along with shepherds glorify Him. The Magi make their way to Him by a star. For a new child has been born for us, the God before all ages." (Kontakion Hymn of the Nativity)
After church, groups of children go from house to house, singing carols (watch the cute YouTube video below). They are met with something sweet to eat or a small gift. The word "carol" comes from the Greek word choaulein, a combination of choros, or "dance", and aulein, "to play the flute". (Doesn't that sound like an explanation from the dad, in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding?)
In Greece, Christmas gifts are exchanged on January 1st, St. Basil's Day. This saint, one of the four Fathers of the Greek Church (Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Gregory of Nyssa are collectively referred to as the "Cappadocian Fathers") is suppposed to visit all the Greek homes on the first day of the year, bearing gifts and toys. Vasilopita, "Sweet Bread of Basil" is prepared and a coin is baked into the ingredients. The person who gets a slice that contains the coin is considered blessed for the New Year. (recipe HERE)
Sources for my Christmas Around the World posts:
Mary D. Lankford's Christmas Around the World
St. Nicholas Center: www.stnicholascenter.org