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10 Greek Food Traditions of Christmas

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Christmas is an observance of faith in Greece and, all over the country, tables will be set with foods that have become tradition, passed from generation to generation. From classics that have become associated with the holidays in every corner of Greece to regional favorites, the tastes of the holidays are fabulous! (Click on photos for larger images.)

Sesame Baklava - Christmas Eve in Evros

Photo of Greek Sesame Baklava
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
The tradition of making Sesame Baklava on Christmas eve comes from the northernmost Greek prefecture of Evros in the region of Thrace but, even there, it is a tradition that is slipping away. The 40 days before Christmas day are, for the devout, a time of dietary restriction. Because this easy recipe is made without the dairy products and eggs that will be used liberally in so many holiday dishes, it was a favorite to enjoy the night before the "fast" ended. And in Greece, we love our sweets!

More Greek Recipes for Baklava and Phyllo Pastries

Egg-Lemon Chicken & Rice Soup - to Start

Photo of Greek Egg-Lemon Chicken and Rice Soup
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Either as the first meal after Christmas eve church services, or the first course at the main meal of the day, this chicken and rice soup made with the famous mixture of eggs and lemon juice (avgolemono) is a familiar sight in Greek homes.

More Greek Soup Recipes

Yiaprakia - a Christmas Tradition from Kozani

Photo of Greek Stuffed Cabbage with Meat - Lahanodolmades - Yiaprakia - Giaprakia
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
It wouldn't be Christmas in Kozani (and other cities in Northern Greece) without stuffed cabbage! In other parts of Greece we may call these lahanodolmades (cabbage dolmades) or lahanophylla yemista (stuffed cabbage leaves), but up north, they're yiaprakia (γιαπράκια, say: yah-PRAHK-yah) and they are never missing from the Christmas table.

The traditional Kozani version is made with toursi lahano - cabbage that has been soaked in brine for 6 weeks - and ground pork. This simpler recipe (photo) is for Stuffed Cabbage with Meat and Rice, using regular cabbage and ground beef.

More Greek Recipes for Stuffed Leaves & Vegetables

Christopsomo - the Bread of Christmas

Photo of Greek Christmas Bread - Christopsomo
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Christopsomo (χριστόψωμο, say: hree-STOHP-soh-moh) literally means "Christ's Bread," and is a fixture in Greek Orthodox homes at Christmas. Great care is taken when making the bread, and loaves can be simple or elaborate.

Pork - the Traditional Meat of Christmas

Photo of Greek Lemon Pork with Celery
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
All over Greece, the hog slaughter is a winter event, making pork a natural choice as the traditional meat of the season. For those who raise hogs and slaughter their own, fabulous dishes are cooked around open fires and hearths. The recipe shown is Lemon Pork with Celery.

More Greek Pork Recipes

Turkey - the Newcomer

Photo of Greek Stuffed Capon
Photo © Natalia
Turkey arrived in Greece recently - in the early 1800s (which, for a country with centuries of history, is recent) - and has become a popular centerpiece on the Christmas or New Year's table. Chicken is also a favorite poultry choice. Stuffings are often made with ground lamb or raisins with chestnuts. The recipe at left is Turkey (or Capon) Stuffed with Lamb and Rice.

More Greek Turkey and Poultry Recipes

Melomakarona Cookies - the Spices of the Season

Photo of Greek Melomakarona Honey Spice Cookies - Christmas Cookies
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Cinnamon, cloves, orange - a traditional combination of tastes identified with the holiday season - are the common factor in these fabulous cookies that are (most often) dipped in a lightly spiced syrup after baking, then topped with sprinkled nuts. In many parts of Greece, the term "Christmas Cookies" means Melomakarona.

Similar cookies called Phoenikia (also finikia) and Isli are seasonal favorites as well.

Some versions of Melomakarona are made with nut centers, while others like the recipe in the photo for Melomakarona with Walnuts are made with optional ground nuts in the cookie dough.

More Greek Melomakarona Recipes

Kourabiethes Cookies - a Flurry of Sugar

Photo of Greek Sugared Shortbread Cookies - Kourabiethes - Kourambiedes
Photo © Jim Stanfield
Kourabiethes (also kourambiedes, κουραμπιέδες, say: koo-rahb-YEH-thes) are sugared shortbread cookies that melt in the mouth! Often made with toasted almonds, they can also be made with other nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts). They can be made in circular shapes, crescents, made by hand, or rolled out and cut, but the one thing all versions have in common is that they are rolled in, dusted with, or buried under a flurry of confectioner's sugar.

The recipe in the photo is for Kourabiethes with Toasted Almonds and Brandy, and other recipes include cinnamon (no brandy), as well as other tastes.

With Melomakarona above, Kourabiethes are rarely absent from homes all over Greece at Christmas.

More Greek Recipes for Kourabiethes

Karythopita Walnut Spice Cake - an Ionian Island Tradition

Photo of Greek Walnut Spice Cake
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
The Eptanisa as they are called in Greek (seven-island group in the Ionian Sea) bring their own traditions to every season, Christmas included, and this walnut spice cake is one. Made with the seasonal favorites of cinnamon, cloves, and walnuts, the cake is baked then soaked in a spiced syrup.

More Recipes from the Ionian Islands

Kalitsounia Kritis Cheese Pastries - Christmas on Crete

Photo of Myzithra Cheese Pastries from Crete - Kalitsounia Kritis
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Fresh soft myzithra cheese (or ricotta as a substitute) in pastry is a Christmas tradition on the island of Crete. Depending on how they're folded (the recipe includes a link to photos of folding techniques), they are baked or fried. One of the many famous (and delicious) dishes from Crete.

More Greek Recipes from Crete

More Winter Holiday Resources

Have a Greek Christmas food tradition to suggest? Post it on the Greek Food Discussion Forum or email me!

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