Top Ten Greek New Year's Customs and Traditions

New Year at The Acropolis  Athens, Greece
New Year at The Acropolis

Athens, Greece
Every culture has its own unique, sometimes quirky, customs and traditions.

Greece is no exception and New Year celebrations here seem to have more than their fair share.

 Santa Claus is not Saint Nicholas, but Agios Vasilis, the Greek Father Christmas, Saint Vassilis, (Basil the Great), being Greek and true to form, he arrives late, a week late; on New Year’s Eve.

Saint Vassilis, or Agios Vassilis has much in common with Saint Nicholas;

 Both are known for their compassion, kind heartedness and their commitment to helping the unfortunate, both bring gifts around Christmastime, one just a little later than the other.

Agios Vassilis, born in Caesarea, capital of Cappadoccia (Today, Turkey) in 330 AD, came from a devout Christian family.

Agios Vassilis  Saint Basil/Basil the Great
Agios Vassilis

Saint Basil/Basil the Great

 After studying at the famous Academy in Athens, Agios Vassilis, in 357 AD, traveled to Palestine and Syria, where he studied monasticism.

He spent his later years trying to stamp out Aryanism (The main heresy denying the divinity of Christ, originating with the Alexandrian priest Arius) and in 370 AD became bishop of Caesarea.

Agios Vassilis, as well as giving all his wealth to the poor, founded the first hospitals, orphanages, and sanctuaries for the homeless, known as the Vassileiada Institution.

Agios Vassilis died in 379 AD, on the first of January, which is now celebrated, by the Greek Orthodox Church, as his Feast Day.

After thirty eight years in Greece, I thought I was familiar with most of the Greek New Year's goings on, but, whilst checking up on a few facts, I discovered many more which I had never heard of.

Here’s a list of the ten more popular Greek New Year customs and traditions:

1. Ta Kalanda (Carol singing)

Ta Kalanda  Greek Carol Singing  Nikiforos Lytras
Ta Kalanda

Greek Carol Singing

Nikiforos Lytras
Children are up and about, bright and early on New Year’s Eve and go from house to house, singing the KALANDA, Greek Christmas Carols, usually only the one, same song,  accompanied by a triangle.

2. Card playing.

Paul Cezanne  "The Card Players"
Paul Cezanne

"The Card Players"
As New Year is considered a lucky time, it’s the perfect excuse for a card-playing marathon, and I mean marathon!

The games go on for hours, starting early evening, and lasting until midnight, usually at home, but there are organised games in the “Kafenion” (Coffee shop) and clubs.

3. Pomegranate smashing.

Pomegranate  Gatya Kelly

Gatya Kelly

A POMEGRANATE, an ancient symbol of prosperity and good luck, is hung above the door throughout Christmas and at midnight, on New Year’s Eve, the lights are turned out, the pomegranate is then hurled to the floor, or at the door, where it smashes, spilling out its seeds, the more seeds the better!

This helps ensure luck, health, happiness and prosperity for the coming year.

4. The big onion

Squill or Sea Onion  Skeletoura-The Big Onion1
Squill or Sea Onion

Skeletoura-The Big Onion!
Now this is a custom I had not heard of, neither had MGG (My Greek God), but, on seeing a picture of the skeletoura, (Squill, sea onion) I have seen them hanging about in Greek houses, at New Years, usually with the bulb part wrapped in foil.

A large onion, skeletoura, Scilla Maritima, the squill bulb or sea onion, used by Greeks in ancient times to worship Pan, God of the wilds and of nature, is hung above the door.

This onion, even when uprooted, will continue to grow layers and blossom; it’s said to have magical powers and is the symbol of rebirth.

At midnight, it is taken down, and in the morning, the children of the family are whacked on the head with it, in order to wake them up, so they can attend the church service for Saint Vassilis!

Well I never!

This onion is kept in the house until the next New Year.

5. Water renewal

Bouguereau  "The Water Girl"

"The Water Girl"
Another custom I’m not familiar with, on New Year’s Day; all water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with “Saint Vassili’s” water” or “Saint Basil’s water”

I didn’t manage to learn what Saint Basil’s water actually is, MGG is more than useless when it comes to questions like this, if anyone knows, please, tell me!

The ceremony is often accompanied by giving offerings or gifts  to Naiads (Water nymphs).

Butter or some other dairy product, is smeared on taps, or village pumps and springs, to “feed” the Naids, through the year.

I am not at all clear about the details and significance of this water renewal carry on.
If anyone can enlighten me, please do.

6. The Hairy or fluffy stone

Moss Covered Stones
Moss Covered Stones

The Hairy Stone
Things seem to be getting stranger by the minute!

This, I have heard of, it actually means a stone covered with moss, or, depending on who you ask, it only needs to be wet.

A stone, preferably covered with moss, is collected from a beach, a river, a pond, basically anywhere there is water, taken home, and left outside the door.

Here, again, things become rather vague, some say, the stone is to be put inside the house.

  On entering the house for the first time, on New Years Day, you must step on the stone.

This, supposedly, brings luck and good fortune.

Why? I don’t know, nobody seems to know, why the moss, why wet?

What does this stone symbolize?

Anybody have any answers?

MGG has no idea, in fact, he’s never heard of this tradition.

On being asked what his family did on New Year’s Eve, his answer was:

“The usual”

I take this to mean; eating, drinking and playing cards.

7. Kalo Podariko (First footing)

Right Foot
Right Foot

"First Footing"
No confusion with this one, I think it’s practiced in many countries throughout the world, it certainly is in Britain.

At the stroke of midnight, someone considered lucky, or a child, due to the fact they are pure and innocent, are sent outside and ordered to re-enter, right foot first, to bring good luck for the following year.

All windows are thrown open to let out the Kallikantzaroi, evil spirits, or mischievous Christmas goblins.

8. Kali Hera (Good Hand)

Kali Hera  Good Hand
Kali Hera

Good Hand
This is the practice of giving money to children; nieces, nephews, grandchildren etc. who may be present after midnight on New Year’s Eve, or, on New Years Day when they come to visit.

9. The Vassilopita. (Greek New Year’s cake)

Vassilopita  Greek New Year's Cake

Greek New Year's Cake

Every Greek family has its VASSILOPITA, the New Year’s cake, concealing a lucky coin.

 After midnight, the Vassilopita is sliced and handed round by the head of the family.

A cross is scored over the surface, the first slice is for Jesus Christ, the second for The Virgin Mary, the third for Saint Vassilis, the fourth for the house and then, for each member of the family, starting with the oldest.

Whoever finds the lucky coin has good luck and good fortune for the rest of the year.

10. Agios Vassilis (Greek Santa Claus)

Agios Vassilis  Greek Santa Claus
Agios Vassilis

Greek Santa Claus

Ho Ho Ho, it’s New Years’s Eve, and Santa’s arrived with his sack full of presents.

Even though he has a different name, and arrives a week later, Agios Vassilis looks a lot like Christmas!

Like SAINT NICHOLAS that is, a jolly, red-clad, chubby chap, sporting a long white beard.

And there you have the makings of  New Year; 

Greek style.

Xronia Polla, (Χρόνια Πολλά)

. Happy New Year.

Yiamas (Cheers)

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