No Gifts Exchanged on Christmas? [PHIL-OSOPHY]
Christmas in Greece is a little different than decorated trees and inflated yuletide characters on the front lawn. The Greeks decorate and light their village fishing boats and the harbors look idyllic, like a photo out of LIFE magazine, if you remember that. Children do go house to house singing "kalanta," or carols, like many do here in the states. And perhaps the biggest difference between Christmas in Greece is the day gifts are exchanged. It's not December 25, but rather on January 1, to honor Saint Basil, "Ayios Vassileeos," the father of Christmas, who gave away all his possessions to the needy.
But as with everything these days, old traditions are changing with intermarriages, and now some families give gifts on both days.
Yet the most far-reaching Christmas difference for Greek folks is the tradition of "Kallikantzari." These unnatural, deformed ghoulies rise from the underworld during the 12 days of Christmas to inflict gloominess, damage and chaos within the family. To make them retreat speedily back to the underworld, the village priest goes house to house on the day of the Epiphany, January 6, and sprinkles holy water in every room. That tradition of blessing the homes has traveled here and is performed by the parish priest in Greek communities throughout the United States.
One other divergent is that since ancient times, the pomegranate has been the symbol of good fortune and fertility. In many of the smaller villages, the tradition of busting open a pomegranate is symbolic of good health and prosperity. The homeowner stands outside the front door and smashes a pomegranate on the ground so that all the seeds spread everywhere, giving everyone an abundance of good health and happiness. That's also my Christmas wish from our family to yours.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.