Why Greeks Decorate a Boat for Christmas

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Greece has had a turbulent history. After the Greek War for Independence ended and the people were free from Ottoman control, Orthodox Christians no longer needed to hide. This means that they could celebrate Christmas not in hiding, as was the case under Ottoman rule, but in public. It was also a politically turbulent time as the new nation struggled to find a system of government that would work. During the process of securing a new government, Greece became a royalty and their king, who was originally from Bavaria, brought many traditions with him – including the Christmas tree. Here’s more information:

History of the First Christmas Tree in Greece

The first Christmas tree came to Greece in 1833. The King Otto, who was originally from Bavaria, brought with him many traditions from his old country. Christmas trees have been a part of the German Christmas tradition since Martin Luther began the custom and the new king set out to make the Palace of Othonas feel like home. He reigned from 1832 to 1862 and each year during Christmas, there would be a tree at the palace. Many families began to decorate Christmas trees, as well.

Decorating the Christmas Tree in Greece

Every place has its own traditions and customs for decorating the Christmas tree. The one thing that is different when it comes to decorating a Christmas tree in Greece, is that the people there follow a more traditional approach. Often, they use a wooden bowl with a piece of wire attached to the rim, and a sprig of basil hanging from it.

Family members keep some water in the bowl to keep the basil fresh. Each day, during the 12 day period from Christmas to Epiphany, a family member will take some holy water and dip the cross and basil in it. Then, the holy water is sprinkled to every corner of the house. This procedure, the Greeks believe, helps keep all evil spirits away, whom they refer to as the ‘kallikantzaroi’.

Greek Tradition of Decorating Boats

Although Greeks do decorate Christmas trees, it isn’t nearly as common a practice as decorating boats. Boats are a powerful symbol in Greece of moving towards a new life. However, while they symbolized something positive, they also represented the dangers that the people could experience at sea. Still, this remains a common practice.

If the people own their own boat, they usually hang strings of lights and other decorations on them. Otherwise, model boats are decorated. This practice experienced a resurgence in the 1970’s where the people wanted to do something more traditional to their own culture.¬†Today, in many of Greece, especially on the ¬†islands, the tradition of decorating boats remain as popular. Children spend days decorating boats, and then sing Christmas carols while sailing in the boats.

Although many families do decorate a Christmas tree, others do stick to their original custom of decorating boats. In some families, both traditions are adhered to. For instance, in Syntagma Square in Athens, there is always both a Christmas tree and a decorated boat.

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This post was written by Greek Boston

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