PROTOHRONIA, NEW YEAR DAY IN GREECE

After Christmas day, the children impatiently await the New Year (Protohronia ) because that’s when St. Basil ( Ayios Vasilis ) delivers their gifts.

In Greece it is the custom to exchange gifts on the New Year instead of Christmas. The presents are delivered by Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis). 

Agios Vasilis is the Greek Santa Claus.

 

Traditions

First Footing – Kalo Podariko:

Kalo Podariko or the tradition of First Footing is very common custom in Greece on the juncture of the New Year setting in. It is believed that the first person who sets foot inside a home in the New Year determines the kind of luck that the household would experience the rest of the year. It is believed that a First Footer should be a person with a kind and loving heart, and as such, a child is often made a First Footer for their pure, innocent and honest hearts are believed to usher in good omen. After the First Footing takes place, other members of the family then follow by stepping in one by one inside the house. It is believed to be auspicious to put the right foot first while coming in by the First Footer and also by the other members of the family.

Feasting with an Extra Place Setting:

Feasting is a common phenomenon for New Year celebrations round the world, and the New Year celebration in Greece is no exception. Members of the family gather together to enjoy a sumptuous meal, and on the table it is often the custom to leave an extra place. This place is meant for Saint Basil. Households in Greece consider it auspicious to include their favorite Saint in their New Year celebrations.

Smashing a Pomegranate:

From the ancient times pomegranate has been considered to be a sign of fertility, prosperity and regeneration. It has been the custom since ancient times for Greek households to hang a pomegranate above the main entrance door of the house. Some people also get the fruit blessed at the Church before doing so. A little before the clock strikes twelve marking the advent of the New Year it is the custom to turn off all lights and for the family members to step out of the house. The family members then step in again with their right foot first after the First Footer makes an entry at midnight. The person who enters immediately after the First Footer rolls the fruit holding it in the right hand with force against the door and smashes it open. It is believed that the number of seeds that gets scattered is directly proportional to the amount of good luck the family would be blessed with in the upcoming year.   

Stepping on a Mossy Stone:

People collect stones that are mossy from nearby water bodies like lakes, ponds, rivers of the neighborhood and place them near the threshold of their homes before the New Year. It is considered to be a good omen to step on this stone before entering the house on the New Year’s Day while following the First Footer.

Hanging Squill Bulb or an Onion or something similar:

The Greeks use bulbs of squill or onion or something similar to hang on to their front door on the New Year’s Eve. This tradition is believed to be an ancient one and prevalent even in the times of the celebrated Greek thinker of the 6th century BC Pythagoras. These plants have the quality of growing fast and even surviving when uprooted. As such, since times immemorial the Greeks have designated these to symbolize growth and regeneration. After the New Year sets in, the home owner takes the bulb inside the house and keeps it in the house the rest of the year.

Vassilopita – bread with a precious coin:

Vassilopita is sweet and savory bread that is baked especially for the occasion of the New Year with a coin made of silver or gold put in it. These days’ people often put a euro in it or a plain round button wrapped in a silver or gold foil. On the New Year’s Day it is the custom for the eldest member of the house to cut this cake – one slice is reserved for Jesus, another for Virgin Mary, a third for Saint Basil, and one each for the Church, the House and the Poor. The rest of the cake is then cut and distributed among members elder to the younger. The one who gets the coin in his/ her slice of cake is believed to bring in good luck. The slices kept aside in the names of Jesus, Mary, Saint Basil, Church, Home and Poor are either given to the guests who visit the home or distributed among the needy.

Source- greecegreekreporter.com, greekboston.com

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