What it would be like to spend Christmas in Kefalonia?

Christmas is a very special time of the year in Kefalonia and all over Greece.

The official celebrations last for 12 days starting on Christmas Day until 6th January, although the festive season starts from the beginning of December. One of the most important Saints in the Greek Orthodox religion is Saint Nicholas, (December 6th) the patron Saint of Sailors.

If you wanted to visit Kefalonia Island either Christmas or New Year, you will need either to fly from El. Venizelos Airport of Athens to Kefalonia Airport or get to Kyllini port by bus or car and get the ferry to Poros port. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from abroad to Kefalonia, during winter.

 Kefalonia, during winter

 

 

What is the weather like?

Well, the water is a very fresh 16 degrees this time of the year compared to the lovely warm 25-32 degrees in summer. Although there are wet days and the occasional storm, Kefalonia often enjoys bright sunny winter days with temperatures around 14 degrees or more, so you can enjoy the natural and peaceful beauty of the island.

 Kefalonia - Mount Ainos, is a must visit

 Mount Ainos, is a must visit. On a clear day, you can enjoy the fun in the snow at the top whilst enjoying the breath-taking views down to the beach with the sun glistening on the water.

 Kefalonia - Local Christmas Customs

Local Christmas Customs

Children and local groups and bands sing and play carols. Decorations illuminated not only the houses but also the towns and villages each with their own nativity scene, Christmas tree and Karavakia (little ships).

The wild strawberry trees and bushes 'Arbutus undo' are laden with bright red fruit. This sweet crimson berry is today used for making jam and liquor. It is also the custom of the Kefalonians to decorate their homes with branches of the arbutus and myrtle trees at Christmas time.

In the home housewives bake the 'Christmas bread', decorated with almonds and walnuts in the sign of the cross. This special bread is now baked and sold commercially or can be bought from the local baker. The 'Christopsomo', Christ's bread, was traditionally, years ago, held over the embers of the fire by the head of the family who would then trickle olive oil over the bread saying 'Christ is born the light grows stronger'. Each member of the family would be given a piece and in turn would distribute what was left to the family's animals, as a memento and contribution for the rest the donkey once provided for Mary on her journey to Bethlehem and the warmth the sheep, goats, cows and other animals gave to Christ at his birth in and around the stable.

In the Greek Orthodox tradition the 'dodekaimeron', the twelve days of Christmas, is full of religious and cultural significance. Christmas day is celebrated as a separate festival, then 26th December which is regarded as the 1st day of Christmas and the church honours the Mother of Jesus ('Synaxis' of the most Holy Theotokos), along with Jesus, referred to in the Greek religion as Emmanuel. The 27th, the second day of Christmas, and the church celebrates Saint Steven (Agios Stephanos). On the 4th day, December 29th, the church has a service to remember the babies that were slaughtered by King Herod in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus.

Kefalonia - kantades at lithostroto

Kantates at Lithostroto and Lixouri

Kantades are serenades and this peculiar kind of melodic folk songs, is a purely unique musical part of the culture of the Ionian Islands and especially at Kefalonia. Its name derives from the Latin verb cantare (sing) and the first kantada is said to be created in Lixouri.

The music of Kantades is based on the rule of primo-secondo-bass since it is performed by several singers at the same time usually accompanied by guitars and mandolins. The Kantades songs usually speak of the islands, comparing one to another in a most comical way, and have been passed on from generation to generation ever since Venetian rule.

They play a major role at the lives of the locals and even the way people speak sounds like singing. Elderly people with melodic voices can be found in Lithostroto pedestrian mall street singing in groups, entertaining the people surrounding them just because they love to do so.

Christmas Markets in Argostoli and Lixouri 

Christmas Markets in Argostoli and Lixouri

Some of the larger towns proudly display decorations along the streets and there is a small Christmas market held in Argostoli square with stalls, a huge tree, children activities and live music playing. 

Choirs, Philharmonic, ballet departments, Santa clauses to hand out sweets and gifts to children and adults, as well as many surprises in this year’s Christmas village in Vallianou Square of Argostoli, in Lixouri and villages of Kefalonia.

Choirs, Philharmonic, ballet departments, Santa clauses to hand out sweets and gifts to children and adults, as well as many surprises in this year’s Christmas village in Vallianou Square of Argostoli, in Lixouri and villages of Kefalonia.

Christmas village in Vallianou Square of Argostoli

 

Why Greeks traditionally decorate a boat instead of a Christmas tree?

Why Greeks traditionally decorate a boat instead of a Christmas tree?

Greece is a nation closely related to the sea since Ancient times. It’s also true that Greece is proud of the large amount of sailors, fishermen and intrepid captains the country has, which makes them as a symbol of local identity. Men would often be away for months at a time, and those back home would be anxiously waiting for their return.

The Karavaki (little ship) symbolizes sailing towards the new life that follows the birth of Jesus Christ and, with Greece being so connected to the sea, decorating a boat during Christmas also serves as a token of gratitude to the marines and sailors who have devoted their lives to the sea for their country.

Even kids prepared their own boats with paper and chips of wood, and on Christmas Eve, they used these little boats to collect the treats they had received when singing the carols (kalanda) from house to house.

 Even kids prepared their own boats with paper and chips of wood, and on Christmas Eve, they used these little boats to collect the treats they had received when singing the carols (kalanda) from house to house

On the islands, the wives, mothers, and daughters of seaman used to spend the cold and dark winter months with their heart and mind at sea. There, their men were battling the stormy seas during the holiday season. These were months of expectation, hope, and prayer for their safe return. The joy of seeing the boats coming back, approaching the shores, made the women celebrate in relief. The boat is a symbol to honor those brave men coming back home.

At Sami and Agia Efimia’ bays you will find beautiful Greek Christmas boats lighting up at night.

At Sami and Agia Efimia’ bays you will find beautiful Greek Christmas boats lighting up at night.

 

Kalanta  (Christmas and New Year’s eve Carols)

 

Kalanta  (Christmas and New Year’s eve Carols)

Kalanta (Christmas and New Year’s eve Carols)

 

On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, in every village of the island, small children and teens travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanta, the equivalent of Christmas carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little drums. The children are frequently rewarded with small amount of money and sweets.

 Be aware of the naughty elves Pagana!  

Be aware of the naughty elves “Pagana”! Greece’s hobgoblins are called “kallikantzari”, friendly but troublesome little creatures who look like elves; they surface on Earth only during the 12-day period from Christmas to the Epiphany (January 6). According to the Greek legend, these creatures’ origin is the centre of the earth, where their mission is to chop at a huge tree trunk symbolizing the earth's foundations. While on Earth, they love to hide in people's houses slipping down the chimney. Being extremely naughty, the “kallikantzari” or “pagana” do things to frighten people, like overturning furniture, devouring Christmas foods, or contaminating the water.

These mischievous, lost, little souls (thought to be those of past infants who were not baptized) known on Kefalonia as 'pagana' have been on earth for 12 days since Christmas Night. They come down the chimneys of the houses and cause havoc, any food that has mysteriously disappeared over the festivities had, of course, been devoured by these, devilish, little mites who have to be banished back to the underworld. Throughout Greece, numerous rituals are performed to keep these hobgoblins away. In some places mothers sprinkle holy water in every room of the house to scare the “kallikantzari” away.

In others, like the island of Kefalonia, women burn incense at the front door of their houses making the sign of the cross in order to repel these undesirable “guests”. The “kallikantzari” or “pagana” disappear on the day of Epiphany when all the waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.

However, due to the miracle of Christ's birth, they find the earth's tree trunk completely restored, so they start their mission to destroy it all over again…

 

The Kefalonian Festive Table

The Kefalonian Festive Table

The Kefalonian Festive Table


The main ingredient of the Christmas table is pork meat and its consumption is connected to ancient Greek festivities. In those times, farmers would sacrifice a pig and pray to god Cronus and goddess Demeter requesting that their lands be fertile and their houses cleansed of demons.

Back to the present, the most common dish you will taste in Greece is Pork and celery served with an egg and lemon sauce. If you visit Kefalonia Island, you should try the local Christmas dish called poutrida (pork cooked with cauliflower and cabbage). 

If you visit Kefalonia Island, you should try the local Christmas dish called poutrida (pork cooked with cauliflower and cabbage).

Long before the turkey appeared at the Greeks’ Christmas table, the plate that gave the celebration tone to Kefalonia was Poutrida. It is a cooked pork with a seasonal vegetables, usually a mapa (this is the Kefalonia name for cabbage), or cavole (Kefalonia name for cauliflower) or more rarely broccoli. The dish was usually spicy with the addition of hot pepper or paprika. Some housewives add carrots and / or the juice and zest of a lemon. Some locals cook it also today.

Long before the turkey appeared at the Greeks’ Christmas table, the plate that gave the celebration tone to Kefalonia was Poutrida 

Another traditional Christmas dinner served in Kefalonia was a dish called Avgolemono (thick chicken or turkey or goat soup with egg and lemon) but today this has largely been replaced by some kind of roasted meat, mostly goat, or stuffed turkey or chicken. After the traditional 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast, nowadays, is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike and the table is filled with traditional dishes like lamb or pork, roasted in an oven or over an open spit and served with various salads, vegetables and potatoes. The meal will definitely include some homemade wine and various starters. By this point the table will be groaning with food, family and friends will then enjoy the sweets!

 Christopsomo

Christopsomo, a light buttery bread filled with warming cloves, cinnamon and orange is made on Christmas eve and decorated with a cross.

Kourabiethes   

Kourabiethes are small shortbread cookies that are baked in every home and melomakarona, a biscuit drenched in honey are the epitome of Christmas cooking in Greece. Always handmade especially in the islands they are offered to everyone who visits.

 

 Children have to wait until January 1st to open their gifts

Children have to wait until January 1st to open their gifts

Children have to wait until January 1st to open their gifts

Instead of gifts, on Christmas Day there is a huge family feast. Children have to wait until January 1st to get their gifts. New Year’s Day is the feast day of Agios Vassilis (Saint Basil otherwise known as the Greek Santa Claus, or the Orthodox Santa) and is the day that families share their presents.

St. Nicholas is an important figure to the members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, as the patron saint of sailors and is celebrated on December 6. While in the rest of the world Father Christmas is St. Nicholas/Santa Claus, in Greece Aghios Vasilis or St. Basil is the one who brings presents to children on New Year’s Day. He comes from Caesarea and not North Pole. He was known from the Byzantine times for his kindness towards the children and the poor and his memory is celebrated on New Year’s Day.

 

Have a piece of Vassilopita and find out if you are going to get lucky throughout the year

Have a piece of Vassilopita and find out if you are going to get lucky throughout the year 

Have a piece of Vassilopita and find out if you are going to get lucky throughout the year

New Years Day has another food tradition with the Vassilopitaa cake with a lucky coin “flouribaked inside. Finding the flouri in your slice symbolizes good luck for the following year.

The center piece of the New Year’s Day table is the Vasilopita/Saint Basil’s pie – a special cake. The head of the household will cross the cake with a knife and offer the slices in the following order: God, Christ, the Virgin Mary, Saint-Gerasimos, the house and then starting with the eldest, each member of the family (even those that are not present). Concealed within the cake there is a special coin (flouri), whoever finds this coin is considered to have 365 days of good luck to look forward to!

H a p p y  C u t  o f f wishes instead of Happy New Year and the Cologne War!  

H a p p y   C u t o f f” wishes instead of Happy New Year and the Cologne War!

Traditionally Kefalonians, on December 30th and 31st, we do not wish "Happy New Year". We wish each other "Happy Cut-Off". The "cut-off" wish of the last days of the year suggests the desire to "separate" from the various weights accumulated last year. Cut-off means relief from memory, from pain, from the fatigue of the old year. Cutting out is the hope for another opportunity, which, we always believe we deserve. It’s a wish for less suffering, for fewer mistakes. It’s time for a fresh start and may the odds be ever in your favour!

Another interesting tradition in New Year’s Eve, the locals go down to the main strolling street (lithostroto) and spray each other with cologne. Young men used to spray cologne on the young ladies that caught their eye. The traditional Carols were sung “We have come with roses and flowers to wish you Many Years!!”.

Rituals for good luck

Rituals for good luck

Rituals for good luck

The so-called “podariko” ((from the root pod-, or foot - first footing), the hanging of the “kremmida” (big onion) outside the door, and the “breaking of the pomegranate” are the most characteristic.

Podariko equals to what the Northern British and the Scottish call “first foot”. According to tradition, it is believed that the first person to enter the house on New Year’s Eve brings either good luck or bad luck. Many households to this day keep this tradition and specially select who enters first into their house.

To have a lucky and good year, the person that enters the house first must be a loving and lucky one. The best one for the “podariko” would be a little child, since they are considered to be the best omen, with their innocence, pure hearts and honesty, or a relative or a friend.

Both “kremmida” and pomegranate carry heavy symbolic meanings from ancient times representing prosperity, abundance in the family, and also bring good luck to one's descendants.
On New Year's Day, Greeks break a pomegranate on the doorstep before entering their houses or they hang a “kremmida” outside their doors on New Year's Eve.

 Kefalonia - Epiphany Day Celebrations

Kefalonia - Epiphany Day Celebrations

Epiphany Day Celebrations – January 6th

The Greek Christmas celebrations conclude with the festival of “Ta Phota” (the Lights) as Epiphany is called, a feast as important as the baptism of Christ. On the Eve of this day, the priest will visit houses and sprinkle holy water to bless them and the family members. This service is known as “Agiasmos”: this is also the name of the holy water which Greeks keep with the family icons.

Churches of Kefalonia, large and small, are magnificently lit and echo with the joyful melodies of bells. In some larger churches, a pair of doves are released from the bell tower.

 Kefalonia - Epiphany Day Celebrations  

During the ceremony, a cross is thrown in the sea waters, in a ritual that revolves around the Great Blessing of the Waters. An impressive custom follows: any number of volunteers may dive and try to recover the cross. Whoever finds the cross returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household. The celebrations are accompanied by the sweet melodies of the Epiphany carols sung by children. The next day is dedicated to the great feast of St. John the Baptist, when the numerous Johns, (Giannis) or Joannas (Ioanna) celebrate their name day.

The custom on Epiphany day in Kefalonia is to eat “tsigaridia” a traditional dish with wild greens or wild cabbage sautéed with spinach, leeks and onions. Yummy!

 

Celebrating Christmas, New Year’s Day and Epiphany in Kefalonia is like finding yourself in an expressionist work of art: decorated Christmas trees, nativity scenes, shiny bright ornaments, and “karavakia” (small Christmas ships) decked with blue and white lights illuminate our streets; harmonious bells and children’s carols echo through our cities and villages. Traditional culinary delights symbolize good luck in the New Year cover our white-clothed tables. In this mosaic of Christmas sensations, holiday experiences are rendered even more colourful by the deep blue of our seas, the green forest of our mountains, the red coral of our sunsets, and the rich violet of our winter, night skies.

 Celebrating Christmas, New Year’s Day and Epiphany in Kefalonia is like finding yourself in an expressionist work of art: decorated Christmas trees, nativity scenes, shiny bright ornaments, and karavakia (small Christmas ships)

Merry Christmas and Happy Cut Off everyone, from Kefalonia and Odyssey hotel

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Cut Off everyone, from Kefalonia and Odyssey hotel!

 

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