Regardless of whether you are Greek or not, live in Greece or among the Diaspora or if you are real lucky and you get to spend the holidays in Greece – I think a primer on the Greek Christmas is the call of the day.
When Greeks speak of the holidays, we mean Christmas, New Year’s and the Epiphany. Christmas and New Year’s are a busy time (like anywhere else) with shopping, baking and preparing for the friends & family that will drop by.
Christmas is firmly in the “family column” holidays with Greeks spending long hours with family & friends over long, drawn-out dinners, wine and many desserts and sweets. Other customs during Christmas are the decorating of the Christmas tree, many will adhere to the 40 days of fasting before Christmas and children can be seen and heard singing Christmas carols from door to door in all neighborhoods.
Until a few decades ago, the Christmas tree played little or no role in the Greek Christmas. People used to decorate a small (sometimes handmade) boat, which called out to Greece’s close affiliation with the sea and it’s long marine history.
In the town squares of many cities near the sea, one will find a large replica of a boat in it’s main squares decorated with lights and ornaments. Shops and office windows are also often decorated and they will remain until January 7th, the following day of the Epiphany.
Although many different desserts are enjoyed and offered during the holidays, there really are just two types of cookies which are standard and found in each and every Greek home. Those cookies would be the Melomakarona and Kourabiedes.
The melomakarona are a spiced cookie, fragrant from cinnamon and cloves and brightened up with orange zest. The cookies are then dunked in a syrup and topping with a walnut crumb mixture with more cinnamon and cloves.
You will find many recipes for Melomakarona and this recipe (although not a new offering on my blog), is a good one – a delicious one!
The other Christmas cookie offered during the Greek Christmas is Kourabiedes. Lot’s of butter is used here. The key to good Kourabiedes is the use of butter. Where Melomakarona use walnuts – Kourabiedes are paired with toasted almonds.
I can’t choose which of the two Christmas cookies I like best but I’ll tell you one thing…these Kourabiedes, if made well (with butter) and stored in a cool place in a sealed container, will only get better and still be butter, soft and just a little crunch from those chopped almonds.
On Christmas day, there are two popular main dishes served. One being a whole roast turkey with a stuffing of rice, raisins or currants and most definitely chestnuts.
Another traditional meal will be centered around a roast pork, be it a loin, shoulder or most spectacularly, a whole suckling pig.
In my home, the baking of cookies and other sweets, be it traditional or non-Greek has been completed. On to preparing for the Christmas dinner and the remaining dishes for the holidays.
I’ll do my best to squeeze in as many timely recipes, dishes and customs as the holidays unfold.
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