10 Unique Traditions for a Messinian Ηoliday

Fruit smashing, special treats, and fires that never go out; these unique traditions make Messinian holiday extra special.

Edited by Paulina Björk Kapsalis

It’s the happiest season of all, and we’re always happiest in Messinia. In many ways, our winter holidays resemble those in other countries; there’s gift-giving, chestnuts roasting, and plenty of fireworks. But if you happen to visit here during the Christmas and New Year holidays for the first time, you’re also bound to notice several unique traditions.

The Christmas boat

At first glance, as fairy lights abound, the yuletide decorations in Greece look similar to those in other countries. But you may notice one significant difference: in the central spots generally reserved for the season’s centerpiece, the tree, you might instead find a decked-out boat. While this old Greek Christmas tradition survives today mostly on islands and in seaside regions, the first tree didn’t appear until Otto (who was of Bavarian origin) introduced a decorated tree in his palace in 1833, and boats remained the most common Christmas decoration until the 1950s. Today, most homes (and town squares) feature Christmas trees, but some still favor the boat or choose to have both.


Translated to “Christ’s bread,” the christopsomo is typically baked on Christmas Eve and eaten on Christmas Day along with other traditional Christmas food, and is replete with symbolism and meaning. In a traditional Messinian family, it would be kneaded by the housewife, while the head of the family would cut and hand out the pieces among the family, and many still value this tradition. It’s a representation of Holy Communion, and how Christ shared bread with his family on earth.


A popular treat in Messinia all year round, lalaggia (thin dough fritters) can be enjoyed plain as a delicious snack or served with powdered sugar or petimezi (grape must) for dessert. On Christmas Eve, they are made in special holiday shapes, such as crosses and stars.


In Messinia, christoxylo is the word for a gigantic piece of firewood that keeps burning throughout the holidays. From Christmas Eve through Epiphany, the fireplace is burning vividly with the help of this wood. Of course, each family needs to find the right size. In this way, they will be able to burn the wood non-stop. The fireplace must be cleaned of the old ashes, as the ashes from the christoxylo is said to keep evil spirits away.

Melomakarona and Kourabiedes

Christmas is the time to indulge, and in Greece, the most famous holidays sweet treats are two types of cookies: melomakarona and kourabiedes. The dark-golden melomakarona are baked in the oven, and then immediately soaked in honey syrup and sprinkled with walnuts. Soft and moist and smelling of cinnamon and cloves, they’re like Christmas in a bite. Kourabiedes, meanwhile, look the part, covered in generous amounts of powdered sugar like tiny snowballs. The round, buttery cookies are made with almonds and are the perfect treat with your coffee on Christmas morning.



As in many parts of the world, caroling is part of the Greek Christmas tradition. On Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the Eve of Epiphany (January 5th), children go door to door singing carols (or Kalanda, in Greek) and playing triangles. There’s a specific song for each of the holidays, as the carolers repeatedly strike their triangles to make a high-pitched chiming sound, not necessarily to the beat of the song. Children are often given small amounts of money or Christmas sweets for caroling.

Greeting the New Year


Of all the New Year’s Eve customs, the Vasilopita ranks among the most popular throughout the country. A round cake with a coin hidden inside, it is ceremoniously cut and served in homes either on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day (and in workplaces usually sometime in January). Pieces are reserved for Christ, the home itself, and each member of the family. Whoever finds the coin, known as the “gouri,” will receive luck throughout the year – and often a small gift.

Pomegranate smashing

On the first day of the year, the first person entering the house smashes a pomegranate at the front door – a beloved, if somewhat messy, tradition. The more seeds that spread all over the house, the better the good fortune that will be brought to this home in the new year.


Other items are referred to as “gouri” as well: lucky charms meant to bring good fortune, prosperity, and health over the coming year, are popular gifts to give and receive during the holidays. Today, designers are inspired by various shapes and items when creating their New Year charms, but popular motifs are pomegranates, boats, and evil eyes.

Stone Stepping

Finally, the “patima tis petras,” or stone stepping, is another unique New Year’s Eve tradition that you might come across in Messinia. A large stone is placed on the threshold of the house by the housewife, which all family members must then step on first thing as they leave the home the next morning.