One of the oldest customs Greeks follow with the advent of the New Year is called “podariko”, from the root pod-, or foot, roughly meaning “good foot.”
Loosely translated, this means that the person who first sets foot in your home in the new year must be someone who brings good luck and also enter with the right foot first!
Even today, many people in Greece are especially careful as to who will be the first to enter their home in the New Year.
On New Year’s Eve they will usually invite someone they believe will bring good luck to be the first to walk into their home as soon as the New Year arrives.
Once the “lucky” person walks into the house, the owners need to step on something that is made of iron, so that the family will be as strong as iron, or healthy, throughout the new year.
The housewife kisses the person who makes the podariko and usually gives him or her apples or walnuts and some sweet quince or any other delicacy made for the holidays.
On the Greek island of Amorgos, a family member always walks into the house first when they return from the church. Holding a small holy icon, the chosen person walks two steps into the house, saying “Good, come inside.” Then he or she will turn around and declare “Evil, get out”. This is repeated three times.
Finally, the person will say “Good, come inside” for the last time, and they throw a pomegranate down on the threshold while wishing everyone a “Happy New Year”.
The podariko custom is attributed to Bishop Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395) who allegedly said that on New Year’s Day people should meet with or bring to their home a person who they believe would bring them good luck.
Podariko is similar to “First Foot” in Scotland
Similarities can be found in other cultures as well, as podariko roughly equals to what the Northern British and the Scottish call “First Foot”.
If you’re at a New Year’s Eve party in Scotland, don’t be surprised if a guest leaves the house a few minutes before midnight just so that they can re-enter as the first footer after the bells.
It’s customary for first footers to arrive with symbolic gifts for the year ahead. A coin is brought for wealth, and a lump of coal for warmth. Food and drink are often part of the ritual, too. Whisky is the beverage of choice, and a fruit cake wrapped in pastry, known as a black bun or Scotch bun, is the traditional food.