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Celebrate the New Year in Traditional Greek Style

greek new year tradition
Greeks smash pomegranates as part of a traditional New Year celebration. Credit: Joergens.mi/Wikimedia commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Celebrations and customs for the New Year are found throughout countless cultures around the world, and Greece is no different. There are many unique traditions to celebrate the New Year from the country.

Firework Shows for the New Year

Fireworks are an essential part of New Year’s celebrations in many countries. The stunning displays of light and color are even more impressive in Greece, which is full of natural wonders and archaeological sites.

On New Year’s, shows of glitter and magic light up the skies all across the country in many cities and villages. The spectacles are all different from city to city, but they are all magnificent to watch.

Greek New Year’s Cake, or Vasilopita

January first is New Year’s Day as well as the feast day of Greek Orthodox Saint Basil. In honor of both the New Year and St. Basil’s day, Greeks bake a coin into a New Year’s cake called “Vasilopita.”

The delicious cake is sliced up and served. The first cut goes to Jesus, and then the rest to the family – Greeks even cut slices for family members who are not present, as well as one for “the house.”

The person who gets the lucky slice with the coin baked inside is said to have good luck for the coming year.

Carolers Bring Good Luck to Your Home

Caroling is not just a Christmas tradition in Greece. Carolers also play the triangle and sing carols, or “Kalanda,” as they visit the homes in their neighborhoods for the New Year.

It is customary to give the children money when they come to your door. The songs are thought to bless your house for the new year and is therefore considered good luck if a caroler visits you. This is a very old tradition that continues to live on throughout the entire country!

Playing Cards

Good fortune and New Year celebrations go hand in hand, and doing something that could attract even more luck, such as playing games, is something no Greek would ever say no to. Bets are modest and symbolic, the idea is to get something out of nothing, a real metaphor for luck!

Even with limited amounts at stake, people get really enthusiastic and games usually last all night, even in cafés and taverns. People in Greece often play board games, dice and the lottery as well. It’s even common to give scratch off lottery tickets as gifts to friends on New Year’s Eve.

One more place at the table

As expected, Greeks usually celebrate the New Year with a delicious feast. It is common to invite friends and family to one’s home and serve a delicious meal before heading out to celebrate the upcoming year.

Many households set an extra empty place at the New Year’s table as a symbolic ritual closely related to the legendary Greek hospitality, so that there will always be a place at the table for any newcomer.

Smashing pomegranates, a Greek New Year celebration

Hanging a big, juicy pomegranate over the front door is a typical Greek ritual that takes place on the night of New Year’s Eve.

Traditionally, the family leaves the house minutes before midnight. Right after midnight, one especially lucky member of the family (usually a child), will be the first to reenter the house, stepping inside with the right foot.

This lucky “First Footer” will be in charge of bringing good luck for everyone who lives in the house, for the rest of the year.

While the “First Footer” enters the house, another family member grabs the pomegranate with their right hand, and smashes it against the door, causing as many seeds as possible to fly around the room.

Tradition says that the more seeds that fall all over the floor, the more good fortune will be brought to the house.

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