During the holiday season, Greece is filled with the delicious aroma of sugary-sweet traditional treats, floating out from houses and bakeries as people prepare for the holiday season.
Featuring traditional Greek flavors like nuts, citrus, spices like cinnamon and clove, and sweet honey syrup, Greek treats are the perfect welcome to the holiday season, and once you try them, you’ll crave them every year. Many of delicious, festive treats are also associated with Greek history or a particular custom, tying in folklore with cuisine.
The two most popular Christmastime sweets in Greece are undoubtedly melomakarona and kourabiedes. As they’re the two most widely made, there is a bit of a debate between fans of the cookies that sparks up again each holiday season — which Christmas cookies are better, kourabiedes or melomakarona?
Either one you try first, you won’t be disappointed — malomakarona and kourabiedes are both incredibly tasty.
Kourabiedes are a kind of shortbread cookie, perfectly sweet and satisfying, filled with almonds and topped with powdered sugar. Depending on the region, Greek kourabiedes can also have a splash of brandy or rosewater inside to add some extra flavor.
The word kourabiedes comes from the Turkish work kurabiye, which itself was borrowed from the Arabic qurabiya, all of which refer to this type of biscuit. Cookies like kourabiedes are made across the Balkans and the Middle East.
Melomakarona are softer than kourabiedes, and have a different, although still festive, flavor profile. Made with olive oil, flour, honey, and citrus, melomakarona are much healthier than most holiday treats. The addition of cinnamon and walnuts makes melomakarona irresistible.
The origin of the scrumptious cookie dates all the way back to ancient Greece. At funerals, ancient Greeks would eat a barley mixture, called makaria. Scholars argue that through the years, makaria developed into the cookie we know today. The addition of honey, or meli in Greek, to the cookie, gives us the name melomakarona.
Along with melomakarona and kourabiedes, no Greek holiday table is complete without diples. Diples are essentially strips of fried dough covered in honey syrup, cinnamon, and often nuts. While they may seem simple, diples are quite delicious. Although originally from the Peloponnese, the sweet treat is now made all across the country.
Christopsomo, or “Christ-bread,” although not commonly made as much as these aforementioned treats, is a traditional Greek sweetbread made on Christmas Eve and served on Christmas Day. The bread, which features a Cross and “X” motif, which stands for Christ, is similar to tsoureki, another Greek sweet bread.
Each region of Greece, and often each family, has its own special ingredients for the Christopsomo, including various dried fruits, nuts, citrus zest, and spices like cinnamon, clove, and anise.
The Vasilopita, perhaps Greece’s most iconic holiday treat, is traditionally made for the New Year. Greeks gather together and cut the Vasilopita, which can be made either as a poundcake or a loaf of sweet bread, to bring luck for the upcoming year. Hidden in the cake is a coin, and tradition says that whoever receives the slice with the coin baked inside will be particularly lucky in the New Year.