|Christmas Traditions and New Year Celebrations in Crete|
After Eastern, Christmas (Christouyenna) is the second important religious holiday in whole Greece. During the time the traditions changed and some of the Christian traditions are hold as well, such as the Christmas tree and the turkey.
Meanwhile also in Crete the Christmas time is getting more and more commercial, store windows are decorated approx 1month in advance, streets and town squares are lit with Christmas lightning and as the holiday period lasts from Christmas, New Year until Epiphany some Greeks are going abroad for winter sport.
In Crete it was custom to decorate instead of the Christmas tree a boat; the reason may be that Saint Nikolas (whose name day is the 6th December) is the Saint of the fishermen and sailors. But even the tradition decorating a Christmas tree may come from Greece as the use of decorated greenery and branches around New Year is recorded as far back as in Greek antiquity.
A few days before Christmas day, the Christmas tree is decorated, some are fasting 40 days before Christmas (faithful would not eat any animal or its related products, i.e. meat, dairy or eggs), houses would be cleaned with extra care and housewives prepare the honey cookies, or Melomakarona (sweet honey covered biscuits), which will be eaten on Christmas Day when the fasting ended.
On the 25th December the actual celebration starts and will be usually spent with family and the traditional Christmas dinner is roast lamb, pork or turkey, fricassee - lamb or pork cooked with egg and lemon sauce.
On the 26th December also the name days of Manolis or Emanuel or Manos or Emanuela are all celebrated, and friends and relatives will stop by to wish them "many happy returns" or “chronia pola”.
In older times the villagers would cut up pork meat and make sausages, apakia (the pork is cut into chunks and then smoked), Pihti (the pig's head is boned and all the meat is boiled; Then the stock, after special preparation, is made into a delicious gelatin mold with pieces of the meat in it), Siglina (the pork meat is cut into small pieces, then cooked and stored, covered with lard, in large pots. This way the meat could be kept for many months), Omathies (the pig's intestines are stuffed with rice, raisins and bits of liver) and Tsigarithes (pieces of lard cooked with spices and eaten with leaven bread for the mid-morning meal when they picked olives.)
On the 27th December is again a Name day which allows to party, the day of Stephanos and Stephania.
After Christmas, the children impatiently await the New Year (Protochronia) because that's when St. Basil (Agios Vasilios) delivers their gifts.
On New Year's Eve in Crete it is customary for most people to gather in the town's centre, or plaza, for last minute shopping or just a pleasant stroll. On the main roads, teenagers and other young ones create a maniacal scene by declaring a bloodless war on each other, using plastic clubs, giant plastic hammers, foam spray and whistles as "weapons." Later, all the friends gather at one of their houses to ring in the New Year together.
New Year (Protochronia) is a Bank Holiday in Greece and the day of St. Basil (Agios Vasilios) who brings the gifts for the children. It is the custom for money (Kali Chera) to be given to children visiting on New Year's Day - usually grandchildren or nieces and nephews. Several decades ago, the money was the only gift the children received on New Year's Day. And, in many cases, the gift was just sweets or pastries, as money was scarce and toy shops were almost non-existent.
Because Greeks consider the New Year lucky, it is the custom to participate in games of chance on the first day. In addition to the state lottery which raffles 10 million Euros on New Year's Day, people play cards and roll dice in coffeehouses, clubhouses and homes throughout the country.
The end of the holidays is 6th January, Epiphany (Theofania or Fota -the Light-). The first sanctification of the Epiphany (The Enlightenment) takes place in church on the eve of the 6th January. Then the village priests go round all houses and sprinkle holy water to bless the houses and all those who live there.
A long procession is formed and follows whatever road that leads to a body of water - the sea, a river or even a reservoir. Up in front of the procession are the cherub icons, followed by the priests dressed in their best holiday splendour, then the VIPs, followed by all the people. In the bigger cities, the procession becomes more elaborate with the addition of music and military contingents. At the end of the sanctification ceremony a priest throws a cross into the water, thus blessing the waters and commemorates Christ's baptism in the River Jordan.
Then, those who dare - mostly the younger people of the village - jump in the usually icy water and compete in retrieving the cross. The one who brings the cross up to the surface will enjoy good luck and health for the entire year.
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