In Greece New Year’s Day is also celebrated as the Feast of Saint Basil who was one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. Also known by the name of Protochronia, Greek New Year celebrations is a mix of traditional rites and modern frolic.
The morning of the New Year comes alive as children go from door to door singing carols (kalanta) and they are rewarded with a coin in return. The other rites and rituals involving New Year celebrations are as follows –
Playing the Cards
According to the Greek traditional belief, the New Year is an auspicious time, and it is a custom to participate in rituals that are believed to beckon more luck and prosperity in the coming year. As such it is a common tradition to play cards or roll dices as people participate in games of chance on this day.
Games are organized in pubs, clubs, coffee houses and homes all through the country. Even the State Lottery is played with much enthusiasm during this time of the year and can raise millions of euro on New Year’s Day. In the homes people while away time playing these games as they wait for the clock to announce the midnight. Here betting amounts are generally kept minimal and friendly diversions are offered so as not to upset anyone who is not winning.
First Footing – Kalo Podariko
Kalo Podariko or the tradition of First Footing is very common custom in Greece on the juncture of the New Year setting in. It is believed that the first person who sets foot inside a home in the New Year determines the kind of luck that the household would experience the rest of the year. It is believed that a First Footer should be a person with a kind and loving heart, and as such, a child is often made a First Footer for their pure, innocent and honest hearts are believed to usher in good omen. After the First Footing takes place, other members of the family then follow by stepping in one by one inside the house. It is believed to be auspicious to put the right foot first while coming in by the First Footer and also by the other members of the family.
Feasting with an Extra Place Setting
Feasting is a common phenomenon for New Year celebrations round the world, and the New Year celebration in Greece is no exception. Members of the family gather together to enjoy a sumptuous meal, and on the table it is often the custom to leave an extra place. This place is meant for Saint Basil. Households in Greece consider it auspicious to include their favorite Saint in their New Year celebrations.
Smashing a Pomegranate
From the ancient times pomegranate has been considered to be a sign of fertility, prosperity and regeneration. It has been the custom since ancient times for Greek households to hang a pomegranate above the main entrance door of the house. Some people also get the fruit blessed at the Church before doing so. A little before the clock strikes twelve marking the advent of the New Year it is the custom to turn off all lights and for the family members to step out of the house. The family members then step in again with their right foot first after the First Footer makes an entry at midnight. The person who enters immediately after the First Footer rolls the fruit holding it in the right hand with force against the door and smashes it open. It is believed that the number of seeds that gets scattered is directly proportional to the amount of good luck the family would be blessed with in the upcoming year.
Stepping on a Mossy Stone
People collect stones that are mossy from nearby water bodies like lakes, ponds, rivers of the neighborhood and place them near the threshold of their homes before the New Year. It is considered to be a good omen to step on this stone before entering the house on the New Year’s Day while following the First Footer.
Hanging Squill Bulb or an Onion or something similar
The Greeks use bulbs of squill or onion or something similar to hang on to their front door on the New Year’s Eve. This tradition is believed to be an ancient one and prevalent even in the times of the celebrated Greek thinker of the 6th century BC Pythagoras. These plants have the quality of growing fast and even surviving when uprooted. As such, since times immemorial the Greeks have designated these to symbolize growth and regeneration. After the New Year sets in, the home owner takes the bulb inside the house and keeps it in the house the rest of the year.
Vassilopita – bread with a precious coin
Vassilopita is sweet and savory bread that is baked especially for the occasion of the New Year with a coin made of silver or gold put in it. These days’ people often put a euro in it or a plain round button wrapped in a silver or gold foil. On the New Year’s Day it is the custom for the eldest member of the house to cut this cake – one slice is reserved for Jesus, another for Virgin Mary, a third for Saint Basil, and one each for the Church, the House and the Poor. The rest of the cake is then cut and distributed among members elder to the younger. The one who gets the coin in his/ her slice of cake is believed to bring in good luck. The slices kept aside in the names of Jesus, Mary, Saint Basil, Church, Home and Poor are either given to the guests who visit the home or distributed among the needy.
Kali Hera or Kali Xera
It is a traditional ritual for Greek children to receive gifts of kali (money) during the New Year. This custom stemmed out of the fact that money has never been abundant in the country of Greece, and that too many toy shops or other shops to buy gifts suitable for children were not rampant either. As such, people used to gift their children, nephew, nieces or grandchildren money which was a mark that they are wishing for prosperity for their little ones in the upcoming New Year. Often people accompanied these monetary gifts with sweets or pastries.
Fireworks and Jubilations
It is very common to find people thronging night clubs, pubs, bars and as well as shopping plazas on the occasion of New Year. Streets get crowded with people and traffic becomes very slow. In keeping with this festive spirit, the various municipal bodies also deck up the main avenues and landmark locations. In many places sponsored musical events too are organized for. In many places throughout Greece elaborate firework displays can be seen that further add on to the mood of festive fervor. People get enthralled by many such entertainment options, and generally enjoy till sunrise the next day.