Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Celebrating the New Year in Greece

Protochronia, the first day of the year, is a big celebration in Greece and used to be the main event of the winter festive season.  Western influence however has meant that Christmas is also big nowadays.

The morning of New Year's Eve starts with children knocking on people's doors asking if they can sing the kalanda to wish a good new year, to announce the coming of St Vasilis (patron saint of children and gift giver) and to bless the house. They sing the carols using triangles or bells and are given money as a reward.

New Year's Eve is a major gathering of family and/or friends, and the theme of the evening is good fortune, health/longevity and good luck for the coming year. Chance or good luck is the central issue here, so playing cards is a very common way to spend the evening - this is considered a lucky night whether you win or lose. This is the one evening of the year when even people who never play cards will gamble. I remember going to New Year's Eve parties when I was a child, and at midnight, when the tables covered with green felt were layed out, my mother who was against gambling, would get us together and we would leave. In a lot of cases people will gamble until the morning.

I mentioned in a previous post the importance of the pomegranate for this time of year. As the new year turns, a person is handed the pomegranate and smashes it by the front door to break it open and reveal the many seeds that symbolise good fortune and prosperity.

Pomegranates are everywhere. Here, in a bowl on our coffee table

in the fireplace

looking closer

a ceramic one on our coffee table

this one is made by ceramicist Eleni Vernadaki

a minimalist one

A further symbol for the New Year is the onion due to its many layers and its ability to sprout new life. Most families will have an onion by their front door or inside the house.

Onions on a seller's cart.

In the morning of New Year's Day Agios Vasilis, who is Santa Claus in other traditions, comes and brings presents for the children even though a lot of families nowadays, influenced by the traditions of the West have Ag. Vasilis coming on Christmas day. Gifts are also exchanged. These gifts include gouria, small tokens that symbolise good luck: these can be small, used as good luck charms, or much bigger affairs that people hang above their front door for good luck.

A gouri given to me a few years ago

I was given this one last year.

Attilio in Glyfada sells the best gouria, and this is one from this year's stock

This year gift buying and general spending in Greece is down by over 50% due to austerity. According to the papers, the only things that people are still buying are gouria.

One more gouri from Attilio.

The cutting of the vasilopita, a special cake decorated with the year on top, is a major ritual and one that the majority of people follow. A coin is hidden inside the vasilopita. The eldest person in the house cuts the vasilopita at the end of the big family meal during New Year's Day. Each slice is dedicated to: Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Holy Ghost (we don't do that), then, the house, then each member of the family followed by the names of close friends. The person who gets the hidden coin in their slice is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.

It is not just families that cut the vasilopita though - places of work, trade unions, all organisations will have their own vasilopita, and consequently the cutting of this cake will continue throughout January as people meet up with the various groups that they belong to.

Feasting on food is very important during the New Year festivities:

A special, delicious bread is baked for Christmas and New year.

There are also kourabiedes


So, which of these traditions do we follow?

I love pomegranades so at this time of year I fill the flat with them. I also buy an onion. We always cut the vasilopita and get quite excited about it. And that's about it.

I would like to wish happy New Year to all my friends and those of you who share my blog with me - I hope 2013 turns out to be a good one.


  1. Hi Eirene

    Thanks for the "inside view" of how the New Year is celebrated in Greece. It's fascinating to read about how other cultures celebrate. Hope you didn't eat too much vasilopita!

    1. I'm afraid I did Mick, not just our vasilopita, but also the pieces that people bring to the house. The custom is that every piece you cut which is dedicated to someone you know/love, when you visit them you take that piece to them, so we have had lots being brought to us as well, and unfortunately, oh, such hardship, they all have to be eaten.

  2. A very nice seasonal post...

  3. Happy New Year to you and to Ken...and may 2013 bring Greece some much needed intervention of a positive and non-destructive kind so that people can return to a life they once had as citizens of Europe.