New Year’s Traditions in Greece

In Greece, Christmas and the New Year come second to Easter. That’s a fact. Greeks love their Easter. But make no mistake, any old excuse to celebrate and be with loved ones is more than welcome. And when it comes to celebrations and forging traditions, Greece has fairly long tradition of making things out of nothing.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are family affairs. But if you’re a nipper all you can think about is going out to sing the Christmas carols to all the neighborhood. Going from door to door ringing the bell and asking to sing the Christmas carols yields not only good karma points (who doesn’t like a bit of morning jingle bells after a night on the tiles?) but also a monetary reward from home and business owners. The ‘kalanta’ as they are known in Greece are an important part of growing up Greek and connecting with other kids from the neighborhood, in similar fashion to trick or treating.

On New Year’s Eve, people gather at houses and eat, drink and have fun. And they also play cards. In what is seen as a tradition that brings luck and prosperity, people gather and play for hours. We’re pretty sure this must happen in China too.

One of the most revered and ecumenical of Greek New Year’s traditions is the cutting of the ‘Vasilopita’ cake. Inside the vasilopita lies hidden a small coin called ‘flouri’. Whoever gets the piece with the ‘flouri’ is believed to have good luck for the entire year. Several variations exist throughout the Balkans, although the Greek one id the only one associated directly to Saint Basil.

Saint Basil himself was a Greek bishop, and in Greece he is revered, with a week’s difference, as Greeks open their presents on New Year’s Day to celebrate the new year with new luck. Saint Basil is one of only 3 hierarchs in the entire Orthodox denomination and is in fact considered one of the founders of the Greek Church.

Greece is steeped in tradition. And if you think the aforementioned traditions are quirky and wacky then drive up north and experience people ‘feeding’ water springs with butter and honey in order to receive better luck. Elsewhere, the ritual burning of leaves and branches in premeditated settings that resemble the coffee cup fortune telling, are alive and well in places like Thassos and Edessa.

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