Christmas in the Cyclades

In the Cyclades the festivities for "Dodekaimeron" Celebration (Christmas, New Year's Day, and Epiphany) have a special, unique identity, which varies pleasantly from island to island.

Generally speaking, the residents of the islands of Cyclades consider it as a good omen if the wind is northerly on New Year's Day or if a pigeon comes to the yard of their house. However, if a raven flies above the house, they are afraid that bad luck may occur. In some villages of the Cyclades, when people have a bath on New Year's Day in the morning they touch their face with a piece of iron ("sidero" in Greek) in order to be healthy all year long ("siderenioi" is the Greek figurative word for absolutely healthy-as if made of iron).

In Amorgos, on New Year's Day they serve "koftos", a dessert made with wheat, onions, grated cheese, olive oil and water in order for the yield to be good.

In Anafi, on Christmas Day, housewives prepare and serve "koufeto" a spoon sweet made with peeled almonds and pieces of reddish pumpkin which have been slowly boiled in honey. On New Year's Day, they bake traditional "zaforisto" (Greek word for made with saffron) bread, which has a distinct flavor and a bright yellow color, in the wood stove.  

At Christmas, the alleyways of Mykonos smell sweet because of "diples"(fried dough dipped in syrup), "foinikia" (baked biscuits dipped in honey syrup), "kourampiedes" (butter biscuits dusted with icing sugar), and the traditional "Christmas bread" baked in the oven. In the villages, people prepare and bake an extra loaf of Christmas bread and give it to the animals of the house. Apart from the desserts, women cook lard with greens or cabbage, a food that symbolizes abundance, and they also make baked meat, onion pies with their local cheese ("tyrovolia") as well as sweet honey pies made with "tyrovolia" and cinnamon.  On New Year's Eve a group of carolers from the Women's Cultural Folkloric Association of Mykonos walk around the island, holding the traditional "karava" (small boat) and a lantern while singing the traditional New Year's Eve carols of Mykonos and Delos.

The Epiphany Day is also a big celebration in Mykonos because it is the day when "balosia" begin. It is a custom originating from Venice and deriving from the words "ballonzolo", which means skipping, and "ballocio", which means a short dance. These dances are accompanied by violins, bagpipes and tubas.

In Naxos there is another gastronomical custom; on Christmas as well as on New Year's Day, people cook and serve kid stuffed with greens and rice. Moreover, Christmas bread is made with raisins and walnuts and right in the centre of the loaf there is a whole shelled walnut and a dough-made cross. The carols in Naxos are the so-called "kotsakia", a kind of a sarcastic "mantinada" (dialogues with rhyming couplets).

In Paros, the children sing the carols in the afternoon on Christmas and New Year's Eve, right after the vesper and the religious service on Christmas and New Year's Day in the morning. On Christmas Day, women bake Christmas bread made with flour and nuts, they put a dough-made cross right on top of the loaves and then they give them to the animals of the house. On the Epiphany Day's Eve, in the morning and after the Great Blessing ceremony, the priests, wearing their liturgical vestments and holding a cross, bless the houses with a basil twig. They are accompanied by a child, who holds a small bucket with the holy water, the so-called "sigkla" (basket) and an oil lamp with the Holy Light. Drifting from one house to another they sing the troparion of the day, and as locals say they "enlighten" the true believers and the rooms of their houses in order for any bad spirits to go away. The housewives put their alms into the basket and, especially in Marpissa they ask the priest to sit on the sofa while telling him: " Sit, priest, in order for our hen to get broody", and offer him Lenten pastry dainties.

On Epiphany Day's Eve, in the afternoon, groups of children and adults sing the traditional carols of Paros, which are influenced by the joyous news for Christ's Baptism.

Early in the morning on the Epiphany Day there is a religious service in the male Monastery of Longovarda, north-east of the capital, Paroikia. The religious service begins at two o'clock in the morning and is exclusively attended by men, while women attend the respective religious service at the holy Temple of Taxiarchis, in the same area.

 In the coastal neighborhoods of Paros, in the morning on the Epiphany Day, after the religious service of the "Great Blessing", the priest, the intoners and the worshippers leave the church and go to the port holding the Baptism icon and the flabella, in order to bless the sea waters and immerse the Holy Cross. After the liturgy the worshippers that fastened the previous day take some holy water to their houses and drink it. This celebration is considered as a day of catharsis and purification for the people, the animals and nature in general. The farmers sprinkle holy water on their animals, houses and fields as well as on the trees and wells. This ritual must have taken place by noon because the holy water is thought to lose its power of catharsis and purification later on.

The traditional carols in Sifnos are improvisations in the local dialect that are directly associated with the religious life and are being sung from noon until the evening of Christmas and New Year's Eve. They indicate the talent of the creator, express feelings and comment on persons and situations. The traditional Christmas meal in Sifnos mostly consists of salt or roasted pork and Christmas bread made with aniseed.



In Syros, in the "Great Evening", that is Christmas Eve, the catholic residents, mostly of the countryside and Ano Syros, after the liturgy get back to their houses and eat fish and cauliflower. On the New Year's Eve members of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women (traditional dance club) walk around Ermoupolis dressed in local costumes and holding the traditional decorated boat, sing the carols of Syros and Tinos. That little boat symbolizes the sailing of people towards their new life after Christ's birth. In Syros, during the past few years, this forgotten Cycladic custom has been brought back after praiseworthy efforts of cultural and municipal bodies.  On the Epiphany Day Eve the members of the Lyceum Club of Greek Women sing the carols again, now holding lamps made out of hollow fresh oranges, restoring in this way a very old custom from Syros.

In Tinos, the "Brotherhood Meal" is a Christmas custom that is restored in Tripotamos traditional village every year on December 25th. The families of the village fulfill some of their typical obligations towards the parish temple, which is dedicated to the Presentation of Virgin Mary. The head of the family in charge is called "kavos" and is obliged to keep the candle that is in front of the icon of Christ's Birth lit during the whole year. Moreover, he must keep the church clean; he must bear the cost of the Christmas liturgy and the candles' purchase as well as of a big votive candle made of pure beeswax. On Christmas Day "kavos" serves lunch at his house only for men and the priest of the parish. The guests bring their bread, fork, spoon and wine with them, wrapped in a kitchen towel. This formal meal is characterized by the abundance of food and the generosity of "kavos" who offers his messmates veal soup, meat cooked with onions in tomato sauce, boiled meat and dolma. The wine is served in "tasia", hemispheric bronze cups which are exclusively used throughout that day and they are offered by the residents of the village. After the meal, a group of guests together with the priest take the icon of Christ's Birth from the church to the host's house while singing Christmas religious hymns. The icon is placed on the table, next to the priest. Everyone sits again by the table, the priest offers them "antidoro" (blessed bread) and then candles are lit just like at the liturgy in the morning. After that, the priest asks the name of the next "kavos". Once it is announced, two collections are passed around, the one of which is for the financial support of the next "kavos" and the other one for the financial support of the priest. Sweets are offered and everybody wishes the new "kavos" good luck with the obligations he took up. The icon is returned to the church with the accompaniment of Christmas hymns. The next day, on December 26th, all villagers get together to the house of the previous "kavos" in order to eat and drink what was left from the next day's meal. The obligations of the previous "kavos" end with the Christmas meal; however he remains responsible for lighting the candle of the icon until the end of the year.