On Christmas Eve, children, especially boys, often go out singing ‘kalanda’ (carols) in the streets. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes they will also carry model boats decorated with nuts which are painted gold. Carrying a boat is a very old custom in the Greek Islands.
If the children sing well, they might be given money, as well things to eat like nuts, sweets and dried figs.
An old and very traditional decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire suspended across the rim. A sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross and hangs from the wire. Some water is kept in the bowl to keep the basil alive and fresh. Once a day someone, usually the mother of the family, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle water in each room of the house.
This is believed to keep the ‘kallikantzaroi’ Καλλικάντζαρος (bad spirits) away. The kallikantzaroi are meant to appear only during the 12-day period from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). They are supposed to come from the middle of the earth and get into people’s house through the chimney! The kallikantzaroi do things like putting out fires and making milk go off. Having a fire burning through the twelve days of Christmas is also meant to keep the kallikantzaroi away (burning old shoes is meant to be a very good way of scaring off the kallikantzaroi).
Every December, in Aristotelous Square in the city of Thessaloniki (which is the second biggest city Greece) a huge Christmas Tree and three masted sailing ship are put up. It’s a popular tourist attraction. There are also large boat displays in other large Greek cities like Athens. Decorated ships are an old tradition in Greece where small ships were put up in homes when sailors had returned from sea voyages.
Christmas Trees are popular in Greece. The first known Christmas tree in Greece was in 1833 and was set-up by King Otto next to a large decorated boat. Over time, especially in the late 20th century, decorated Christmas trees became more popular than decorating a boat. But now having a boat as well as a tree is becoming more popular!