Christmas is a very important festival in Greece and traditionally food plays a major role. This is a good chance for families to come together over the decorated table and try Christmas food prepared by the housewife. The traditional Christmas celebration lasts for 13 days, from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6th, the day when the baptism of Jesus Christ is symbolically celebrated.
As old as Christianity itself, there are many traditions and customs associated with this season, some quite old and others more recent, like the decoration of the Christmas tree and the turkey. But like everywhere else, Christmas is synonymous with excellent, tasty cuisine. In this time period, there are many chances for eating together in the Greek families, such as on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day, on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day. All houses are decorated with Christmas tree and other decorations, while Christmas food in Greece includes very special recipes.
Here are the typical Greek Christmas foods you can find on every table around Greece:
Avgolemono Soup (Egg-Lemon Chicken Soup)
Avgolemono is a very common dish enjoyed throughout the year – not only on Christmas. It is a simple chicken broth infused with a lemon and egg mixture, generally cooked with rice or orzo. The consistency varies depending on personal taste and the soup is often served as the first meal after the Christmas Eve church service.
Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
Stuffed cabbage leaves are a traditional Christmas dish, commonly referred to as yiaprakia in northern Greece while the rest of the country usually called them lahanodolmades. Stuffed with a filling of minced meat and rice, it is usually topped with a thick lemon-flavored sauce. The recipe was introduced in Greece with the arrival of Greek refugees from Asia Minor around 1922.
Christopsomo (or Christ’s bread)
Christopsomo is another Greek Christmas tradition, common to numerous families across the country. Usually decorated with a cross or ‘X’ (the first letter in the Greek word for Christ), housewives also create other nice designs, such as the sun, the moon or sheep. this loaf of bread is made out of the purest and most expensive ingredients such as raisins, aniseed, walnuts or almonds, etc.. Made on Christmas Eve to be eaten on Christmas day, this is a round bread and is usually set on the table surrounded with nuts, dried fruit, and other treats, and it is eaten by the slice, drizzled with honey.
The Christmas Turkey
Turkey is a relatively new Christmas food in Greece. It is cooked in the oven, on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. Until a couple of decades ago, Christmas meat was usually lamb or pork, but today most housewives cook turkey, probably affected by western cultures. The Christmas turkey is stuffed with rice, walnuts, raisins, chestnuts and mincemeat or giblets.
For Christmas, all over Greece, the meat of the plat de résistance is not turkey but rather pork. Indeed, it was and still is a highly-appreciated protein source used to break the Advent fast leading up to Christmas. There are many traditional pork Christmas recipes which vary depending on the region. From whole-roasted pig to pork stew, pork-filled puff pastry or slow-cooked dishes, pork plays a leading role in the Christmas food scene – despite the recent popularity of turkey stealing the spotlight in recent years.
Saint Basil’s Cake (Vassilopita)
The top among all Christmas food in Greece is Saint Basil’s Cake, called Vassilopita. This is a cake that is cut right after the coming of the New Year, which actually means a little after midnight, or at the lunch of New Year’s Day. The special thing about vassilopita is that it is baked with a coin inside. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake is expected to have much luck for the entire coming year. There are many recipes to bake a vassilopita. The most traditional recipes include pomegranate, almonds, raisins, while the most modern recipes may even include yogurt or ginger.
Christmas food in Greece could not miss the sweets. The most typical Greek Christmas sweets are the syrup sweets, including baklava, kataifi, galaktoboureko and walnut pie (karydopita). Of course, very popular Christmas sweets are kourabiedes and melomakarona. Kourabiedes are actually buttered almond cookies with powdered sugar, while melomakarona are honey cookies with walnuts. If you come in Greece during Christmas period, you will see these two Christmas sweets in all pastries, cafeterias, and houses.
In Greece, the appearance of melomakarona in bakeries always signal that Christmas is coming. These delicious cookies flavored with cinnamon, cloves and orange are dipped in a syrup after baking, then finally topped with sprinkled nuts. Fair warning, these favorites are so delicious you may develop an addiction.
Diples are traditional sweets offered at weddings and baptisms but also during the Christmas season. It is simply a dough that is folded (diples mean folds), lightly fried in olive oil and then covered with honey, walnuts and cinnamon. These delicious and tasty sweets can easily be done at home, although you can find them virtually everywhere.
Kourabiedes are the other typical Christmas treats that announce the beginning of the holiday season in Greece. Although they are usually made with toasted almonds, other nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts) can also be used. These shortbread cookies are often infused with rose or orange blossom water and dusted with heavenly icing sugar.