Is that Santa on the jet-ski?
One of the most beautiful sights at the islands’ ports around the Cyclades are the picturesque “karavakia” – small boats decorated with hundreds of small lights that shine, welcoming travelers who come home to spend Xmas and New Year with their families. Decorating Karavakia instead of Christmas trees is a tradition that goes back to the times when most islanders used to work as sailors and symbolizes the strong bond between Greeks and the sea. Colorful small boats look like shining vows to St. Nicholas, protector of all sea men.
The Cyclades in Christmas and New Year look very different from the loud summer partying ambiance that tourists experience between late April and early November. Most of the residents chose this time of the year to travel around Greece and abroad. Many shops, cafes, restaurants, and clubs are closed, giving the impression that the islands are deserted. Nevertheless, for those looking for an unusual yet very attractive Xmas holiday, this may be a great opportunity, as there are many spectacular customs concerning the 12 days known as “Dodekaimeron” (Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Epiphany).
Early in the morning of the eve of the above celebrations, children holding small metallic triangles that produce a sweet festive sound, knock on the doors of houses and shops to sing the carols, and get sweets or small money as a reward. In the meantime, household kitchens are “set on fire” to prepare the traditional Christmas bread, decorated with a cross and of course dinner that may include from stuffed turkey to roasted lamb, along with baked potatoes and onion pies with local cheese as well as sweet honey pies made of cheese and cinnamon. Every island features its own delicacies, while they all share in common the home-made traditional “diples” (fried dough dipped in honey syrup with nuts), “melomakarona” (baked biscuits dipped in honey syrup with nuts), and “kourabiedes” (butter biscuits dusted with powdered sugar).
Additionally, on New Year’s Eve each family’s “chief” cuts the “vasilopita” — a semi-sweet cake with a coin hidden in the dough. Whoever finds it is supposed to have plenty of good luck throughout the New Year. The islanders believe that a light northern wind or a pigeon in the house yard on New Year’s Day are also good omens and that if, after taking their bath on the same day, they touch their faces with a piece of iron, they will be healthy and strong all year long!
Finally, every year on the 6th of January the Greek orthodox church celebrates the Epiphany Day, where priests all over the country conduct the ceremony of the waters’ blessing: they throw holy crosses in the sea – or in rivers, lakes, even large tanks and then, young men must dive in, trying to retrieve the cross. He who finds it is said to be lucky and blessed for the whole New Year.