Greece is no stranger to traditions, but this really comes to a head at New Years’. The two day period is crammed full of centuries-old superstitions, religious rituals and quirky observations. From cakes and carols to pomegranates and pebbles, here are seven New Years traditions in Greece that you might not be familiar with.
Greek New Years Traditions
1. Starting the day with a sing-a-long
Carols might be associated with Christmas, but in Greece the singing continues well into the New Year. On New Years’ Eve, children will typically wake up early and spend the morning rushing from house to house in the local neighbourhood to sing Kalanda – Greek Christmas carols. They’ll usually bring a triangle along too. The carols ring in good luck for the new year.
2. Playing cards all night
Speaking of luck, in Greece New Year is considered a lucky time of year and the best way to maximize it is to whip out a pack of cards. It’s not just one game of snap either, it’s a card marathon that starts in the early evening and goes on for hours, until well after midnight. Usually, the local kafenion (coffee shops) and tavernas will organise the games. Unsurprisingly, it’s also a popular time to buy lottery tickets too.
3. Santa Claus pops over too
Actually, technically it isn’t Santa Claus but a figure that looks an awful lot like him. Agios Vassilis, or Saint Vassilis, is compassionate, kind and comes bearing gifts. He also sports a long white beard, dresses up in red velvet and has a penchant for sweet snacks. Sound familiar? We thought so too. However, unlike Santa Claus, who turns up on Christmas Eve, Agios Vassilis visits on New Year’s Eve and leaves behind a bag of presents.
Agios Vasilis is considered one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church, so an important figure for Greeks. They honour him by setting an extra place at the table for him and making generous donations to charity over the festive period.
4. Pomegranates play an important role at New Years
Pomegranates represented prosperity, fertility and good luck in ancient Greece. To ensure that the whole family benefit from those pomegranate powers all year long, it’s common to hang a pomegranate above the door throughout Christmas. Then, on New Year’s Eve someone hurls the pomegranate on the floor (messy yes, but also necessary). The more seeds on the floor, the better your year will be.
Others choose to hang onions on their door instead, as a symbol of growth and rebirth.
5. You’ll get to tuck into a delicious cake
The Vasilopita is a delicious cake, but you’ll only get to cram crumbs in your mouth on New Years Day. The chef will hide a small trinket or coin inside the cake mixture before cooking it up. After the strike of midnight, the family will cut into it, though first serving one slice for Jesus, one for the Virgin Mary and one for Agios Vasilios. Then the family gets to tuck in, from the eldest member to the youngest. Whoever finds the hidden coin will receive a small gift or a little more money. They’re also in for a whole year of good luck.
6. Be careful about who you invite to your house
Kalo Podariko means first footing. According to Greek Kalo Podariko tradition, just before midnight you should turn off all the lights in the house and go and stand outside your house. One person who is considered particularly lucky, pure of heart and innocent (usually a child) is sent into the house ahead of everyone else, right foot first. Then everyone else follows with their right foot first, to secure good luck for the following year.
Once inside, you have to throw open all of the windows too to let out the Kallikantzaroi – evil spirits and goblins.
7. And don’t forget the hairy stones!
This is one of the quirkier New Years traditions in Greece that we’ve come across. Stepping on moss-covered stones is good luck and an easy(ish) way to secure some good luck and fortune for the new year. Not everyone has easy access to mossy stones, so Greek people will often collect them from nearby rivers, ponds and lakes, then place them in the threshold of their houses before the New Year. As long as they step on them in time, they’re in for a real treat of a year.