December is here and Advent is underway. As Christmas approaches and the festivities get into swing, I am happy to have the chance to experience two cultures this year.
Christmas in Evros, a little corner of northeastern Greece, reveals a rich patchwork of traditions. From the folklore tales of the kalikantzaroi, mischievous sprites and goblins that come out into the world at Christmas time to cause trouble, to the fabulous tradition of τα εννια φαγιά, the nine dishes, this is a warming place to be at Christmas time.
Foodies may appreciate traditional Greek Christmas treats, like kourabiedes, a kind of sugary biscuit, or the syrupy pastry diples. My personal favourite is the melomakarono, the consistency of which is a cross between a biscuit and a cake. You can have it as syrupy or as dry as you like, and the walnuts on the top add a gorgeous flavour.
In Greece, the Christmas tree has arrived only comparatively recently to adorn the season. The tradition has instead for a long time been to decorate a boat, and these days you can see Christmas boats outlined in lights too. Often they are placed in public squares right next to or opposite a Christmas tree.
One tradition that I particularly like in Alexandroupoli, the largest town in Evros, is the camel at the New Year. In the centre of town, usually amid a crowd of spectators, you can find a wonderful sort of street pantomime.
Two people will be in a camel costume – one for the front legs and the other for the back. They caper about, chased by the camel driver, and all the while a band plays and a group of people wearing traditional costumes dance local folk dances, with the camel and driver weaving in and out of their midst. It is great fun to watch.
You can live through these and other traditions in my book, Christmas in Greece.
Continuing the story of Lucy the InstaExplorer, this book transports young readers, pre-teens and young teens, into a magical season of traditions and festivities, as Lucy struggles to learn the language while discovering local Christmas folklore and sampling its delicacies.
Christmas in Greece is available here: