July 16, 2024

Athens News

News in English from Greece

Christmas and New Year’s carols from all over Greece

“Kalanta”, Nikiforos Lytras, 1872. Greek Christmas and New Year’s carols are incredibly varied and bring some tradition to the holiday season. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain.

Greece is rich in amazing holiday traditions, and Christmas carols, or kalanda, are one of the most heartwarming seasonal customs.

Every year, Greeks look forward to Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and January 5th, the day before Epiphany, when children go from house to house singing Greek carols, hoping to receive coins from the families for whom they sing.

This sweet tradition is an iconic part of the Christmas season as children send wishes of happiness, health and good luck to their neighbors by singing traditional carols and playing the triangle. Although the custom of singing Christmas carols has been around in Greece since the country adopted Christianity, it also has ancient Greek roots.

Ancient Greek Roots of Christmas Carols
In ancient times, children sang songs to Dionysus, offering others an olive branch, a symbol of peace and prosperity. In ancient Greece, carols symbolized joy, wealth and peace, and children only sang carols in the homes of the rich. They walked from house to house, holding in their hands an olive or laurel branch, decorated with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and various fruits. The children then took the olive branch to their home and hung it on the door, where it remained for the rest of the year.

Like the food, costumes and dancing, each region of Greece has its own Christmas songs. They often reflect local dialects, history and musical flair. Many carols are dedicated not only to Christmas, but also to the New Year and often have a religious theme, as well as carrying hope and happiness.

Perhaps the most famous Greek New Year’s tradition is the vasilopita, or cake with a lucky coin inside. On the first day of the new year, St. Basil’s Day, believers cut bread in hopes of finding a coin that is believed to bring them blessings for the entire year.

Saint Basil was one of the giants of the early Christian church. He was a scholar, an accomplished statesman, a man of great personal sanctity, and one of the greatest orators of Christianity. His holiday is celebrated on January 1.

Let’s take a musical tour of Greece and listen to various carols that will lift our spirits during this gloomy time of year.

Christmas carol from Lesbos

New Year’s carol from Santorini

Christmas carol from the Peloponnese

Christmas carol from Epirus

New Year’s carol from the island of Chios

Christmas carol of the Pontic Greeks

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