Although Greece is known internationally as a top summertime destination, the Mediterranean country is also quite festive during the winter. Greece is steeped in fascinating holiday traditions, with its Christmas carols, or kalanda, being some of the most heartwarming seasonal customs.
Every year, Greeks anxiously await Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and January 5, the day before the Epiphany, when children go house to house singing Greek carols, hoping to receive coins from the families they sing for.
This sweet tradition is an iconic part of the Christmas season, as children bring wishes of happiness, health, and good luck to their neighbors while they sing the traditional carols and play the triangle.
While the custom of children singing Christmas carols has been present in Greece since the country’s adoption of Christianity, it also has ancient Greek roots.
Ancient Greek roots of Christmas Carols
In antiquity, children would sing songs to Dionysus, offering others an olive branch, a symbol of peace and prosperity.
In ancient Greece, carols symbolized joy, wealth and peace, and the children sang the carols only in the homes of the rich.
Children would go from house to house, holding an olive or a laurel branch adorned with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and different kinds of fruits.
The children then brought the olive branch to their homes and hung it on the doors, where it would remain for the rest of the year.
Like food, costume, and dance, each region of Greece has their own, distinct Christmas carols. These songs often reflect local dialects, history, and musical flair.
Many carols are also dedicated to the New Year, not just Christmas, and they often have religious themes, as well as messages of hope and happiness.
Perhaps the most well-known Greek New Year’s traditions in the vasilopita, or a cake with a lucky coin inside.
On the first day of the New Year, Saint Basil’s Day, the faithful cut the bread hoping to find the coin that is said to bring them blessings throughout the whole year.
Saint Basil was one of the giants of the early Christian Church. He was learned, accomplished in statesmanship, a man of great personal holiness, and one of the great orators of Christianity. His feast day is January 1.
Let’s take a musical tour around Greece and hear some of the different carols which will lift our spirits at this darkest time of the year.