CHRISTMAS CUSTOMS IN HALKIDIKI

With Christmas approaching, and although our stunning Miraggio Thermal Spa Resort is closed for the winter season, we would like to wish you all the very best for the holidays, and share some facts about what it is like during Christmas in our homeland, Halkidiki! Christmas & New Year’s customs are plentiful, and since Halkidiki is the home of many many rural settlements and small villages, each one has their own take on these traditions. Here we explore some of the more mainstream customs, to give you a feel of the scents and sounds of this joyous season, in our part of the woods...

As with most parts of Greece, each region will tend to have their own versions of the various customs. And Halkidiki is no exception. For example, on Christmas eve, tradition dictates that children begin carolling or ‘kalanta’ from the early morning, going door to door spreading wishes and receiving treats, in the old days, as money was scarce back then. If their kalanta wishes were not received with a treat, a curse would be bestowed upon the ...stingy household. Now, treats have given way to cash, which is much more appreciated by the youngsters, who are super excited to venture out again a few days later, for the second round of kalanta on New Year’s eve.
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Now, in terms of festive treats, on Christmas eve a special bread is prepared by each and every household in Greece. The ‘Christopsomo’, meaning Christ’s bread in Greek, is the typical traditional treat that is handmade, and decorated with dough swivels in the form of a cross plus dried fruits and nuts. In Halkidiki, the fancy bread is made without adding sugar to the dough but it is glazed with melted honey or sugar water instead of the usual egg coating which is used in other recipes around Greece that have included sugar in the main dough mix. This bread is baked and savoured fresh on the same day, shared among the family members. A coin is usually also included somewhere in the bread, and whoever gets that piece is considered to be the family’s lucky one for the coming year.

The Christopsomo bread is blessed over the Christmas eve fire before being shared among the household members, and this fire is meant to be kept alight for the next 12 days. The 12 days count down from Christmas eve until the 6th of January, just in time for the Epiphany day. The reason is that this fire keeps the evil spirits or ‘kallikantzari’ (as they are called in Greek) away. Households will also form a cross from the flame of this fire, on their main entrance door frame, further reinforcing the powers of the light against the dark. The importance of Epiphany day is that it is considered to be a day of baptism and blessing, so it is greatly associated with the cathartic properties of water. Priests bless the waters by throwing in a cross which the faithfuls then dive in and race in order to retreive.
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Another peculiarity is that Father Christmas is not celebrated on Christmas day; Greece has no Santa Claus, but rather it celebrates Saint Basil’s day on the 1st of January, which is when gifts are officially exchanged. For good fortune, it is traditional that a pomegranate is thrown and smashed on the ground at the entrance of each household. The pomegranate jewels that are exposed symbolise new year wealth and prosperity for the household. In Halkidiki, a few other new year traditions are kept alive. On the night of the first day of the new year, the main fount of each main square in each of the villages must be kept running, symbolising good luck for the rest of the year. In terms of more symbolism, the appearance of snow on New Year’s day is an omen of a good year ahead, while a clean sky has been associated with good health for the rest of the year.

It is no surprise how superstition, spirituality and tradition are all interlinked not just in Halkidiki or Greece, but all over the world! Each nation has its own set of stories and legends, as customs are passed down from one generation to the next, carrying with them the fables and tales of the elders, who lived through harder times. Thankfully, this is a way by which each country can retain their ethos, values and identity thus enhancing their present day charisma and charm.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, full of hope and light, and a Happy New Year full of luck, well being and prosperity for all!
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