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Macedonian Christmas

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki.

semi-overcast 14 °C


Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki.
Macedonia – Greece.

Every December, Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki, erects a huge, illuminated metal structure in the shape of a three mast ship next to the Christmas tree in its main square. The ship, and not the tree, is the traditional Greek symbol of Christmas.
Even the vast majority of Greeks who continue to stick to the Christmas tree consider it a foreign import. The modern Christmas tree entered Greece in the luggage of the country’s first king, Otto of Bavaria, who ascended to the throne in 1833 but the tree did not become popular before the 1940s. The ship, by contrast, is viewed as a quintessential Greek symbol. Greeks have been seafarers for thousands of years and the country is today one of the world’s mightiest shipping nations.

In some of the Greek islands huge ships are built, symbolic of the new life Christmas heralds. Children are singing Christmas carols (the word carol comes from the ancient Greek word choraulein, meaning a circle dance performed to flute music) holding illuminated model boats in their laps. For children, they serve as a lantern in the dark or as a box for presents collected in return for singing carols. It is believed that the history of caroling goes deep into the past and connects with ancient Greece. In fact, they have even found carols written in those distant past days which are similar to the ones sung today. In ancient times the word for carols was Eiresioni, and children of that era held an effigy of a ship which depicted the arrival of the god Dionysus. Other times they held an olive or laurel branch decorated with red and white threads, on which they would tie the offerings of the homeowners. The Christmas tree, assumed to be foreign, may even have some Greek roots. Use of decorated greenery and branches around New Year is recorded as far back as in Greek antiquity, as it is in other pre-Christian cultures. Christmas was meant originally to replace the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Tree branches and green bushes called “Christwood” always had a place in Christian households during the medieval Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Probably that’s why the tree and the boat coexist today in Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous Square.

More images at: Kevrekidis Photography

© 2009 Jordan Kevrekidis

Posted by Kevrekidis 03:12 Archived in Greece Tagged educational

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