Greek Traditions To Welcome The New Year

  • by XpatAthens
  • Wednesday, 20 December 2023
Greek Traditions To Welcome The New Year
Greeks ring in the new year with as much celebration as everyone else, except that New Year's Day in Greece is a big day for another reason too.
January 1st is the name day of Saint Basil or Agios Vasilios, one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church, making this holiday one with many traditions to enjoy. Here are a few of our favorites:

Exchanging Gifts 
Although Christmas has recently brought Santa Claus and the giving of gifts, traditional Greek homes celebrate gift-giving on the name day of Agios Vasilios - presents are left under the tree on the morning of New Year's Day.

Playing Cards
Luck plays a big part in the new year celebration in Greece. A win at cards could signal a whole year of good luck, so playing card games, rolling dice, and other games of chance play a big part in Greek celebrations at this time of year. Games are often played in tavernas, kafenion, and homes across the country. Even the state lottery is played with much enthusiasm at this time of year.

The "Podariko" Tradition
On New Year's Day, a common tradition called 'kalo podariko' or first footing, is that the first person to enter a Greek house on New Year's Day will bring luck in with them. Typically before midnight, the 'first footer' is chosen to step through the doorway and back into the house in an attempt to bring good luck to the home. It is said that luck is only brought by someone with a kind, loving, and honest heart, so children are commonly chosen to usher in the new year in this way.

New Years Day also brings the traditional 'Vasilopita' cake, a round sweet cake that is ceremonially cut with a slice for each member of the family and additional special slices for the home, Agios Vasilios, and any other religious figures the family wishes to cut for. Slices are handed out to each family member from oldest to youngest - whoever receives the lucky slice, the piece containing a hidden coin, is said to receive good luck for the whole year.

Gouri - New Year's Charms
Good luck charms, or 'gouria' in Greek, are also very popular at this time of year. The Gouri is a traditional Greek New Year’s gift that you give to loved ones in order to bring them luck for the year to come. Designs and materials may vary, just like their prices, but a gouri is a very popular symbol of love and protection for the new year.

Other New Years' Traditions Around Greece
In the Cyclades, villagers believe a north wind on New Year's Day to be a very good omen for the year. Also, if a dove should land in the yard that day, the family will have an extra lucky year, but if a crow flies over the house, then all luck will be lost.

In Crete, the tradition of hanging wild sea onions, or 'squill' is still practiced in some homes. The Cretan wild onion is actually poisonous and may cause a skin rash, but when uprooted, it flowers and grows new leaves. Cretans consider this rare quality a very good omen and hang the wild onions in their homes on New Year's Day in a tradition that goes back to the 6th century BC.