Unique Christmas Hog Tradition from Crete

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Although most parts of Greece have similar Christmas traditions, there are some differences, especially on the island of Crete. The cuisine is also unique from the rest of Greece. As a result, there are different food traditions for Christmas. On this island, it is the tradition to slaughter a pig and enjoy the meat not only for the Christmas feast, but also into the New Year. Here’s an overview of this custom:

 What is Christmas Hog? 

The tradition of slaughtering a pig during this time of year actually didn’t begin because of Christmas – it started much earlier than that. According to this tradition, each family of the Crete had to raise a hog, pig, in their home for the purpose of slaughtering on the Christmas Eve. On the next day, that slaughtered pig will be served as the main dish. 

Preparing the Food

The day after the pig is killed, the family gathers to cut the meat with the purpose of preparing a variety of foods. Although some of it will be served at Christmas, a hog is a large animal and the meat will be prepared in different ways in order to preserve it. For instance,  they make sausages, apakia, pithi, siglina, omathies, and Tsigarithes. 

Here’s an overview of how the meat is traditionally prepared:

  • Apakia –  The pork meat is cut into chunks and then smoked.
  • Pithi – With pithi, the meat is seasoned and then preserved in gelatin.
  • Siglina – The meat is cut into small pieces and then stored in the large pots with the lids on. They store this preparation for a couple of months.
  • Omathies – During this process,  the intestines and liver is mixed rice and raisins.
  • Tsigarithes – The pork is seasoned and usually eaten it in the mid-morning meal with bread.

Although some of the meat is set aside for the Christmas meal, the pork meat is also made into the above preparations in order to preserve the meat. In some families, it wasn’t possible to constantly have fresh meat and for many, the Christmas hog was one of the major sources of meat for the year. 

Other Uses for the Hog

An interesting thing about this tradition is that the Cretans don’t let any part of the animal go to waste and use almost every part of the animal – even organs like the bladder!  In fact, the bladder was typically fashioned into a ball for children to play with throughout the year. In this way, the family was able to use the animal not only to provide sustenance, but to also make the children a special toy for Christmas. 

Families all over Crete looked forward to slaughtering a hog each year. This not only gave them a chance to enjoy meat for their Christmas feast, but it also provided them with a source of meat throughout the year. By preserving the animal using techniques such as smoking or preserving it in gelatin, this allowed the meat to be enjoyed long after Christmas. 

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This post was written by Greek Boston