Although Greek music covers a wide range of genres, Greek music for Christmas and the New Year is not as popular as expected.
Most of the songs heard during the Christmas period – including the New Year and other smaller festive days are Greek translations of famous English songs such as “Silent Night”, ” O Tannenbaum”, “Jingle Bells”, “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and more.
What is most interesting is that Christmas is a very religious holiday in Greece, but rarely would the famous Greek composers and lyric writers create typical Christmas songs. Caroling, on the other hand is very common in Greece, and Christmas or New Year’s Carols are sung all over the country during the festive days of Christmas.
Christmas in Greece
Typically the Christmas season in Greece starts on December 6th, the day of St Nicholas. In most cases people tend to decorate their homes, lighting up the Christmas tree on that day.
The big squares of the cities also communicate the message of the Christmas Season, with the large tree, the lights on the shop windows showing that it’s time for the festivities.
Christmas Season in Greece ends on St John day, on the 7th of January. During this time carols are heard all over the public areas and in the houses.
Carols – called Calanda (κάλαντα, kalanta) in Greece – are an old custom which has remained untouched and unchanged since the medieval era.
Although most of the Greek carols are folk songs that have been passing from generation to generation were born during the medieval era, ancient Greeks also had their carols. Scholars and historians have found that ancient Greeks were also singing carols, which of course did not refer to the Christian religion and Christmas, but to their own celebrations and feasts.
Most of the times these carols would represent the arrival of the God of wine and feast, Dionysus and his tribe. Children would draw a ship, or would hold a small replica of a ship that would mark the coming of the God. This is probably the main reason why the Greek tradition of Christmas dictates the decoration of a small boat or ship instead of a tree. The tradition of the decorated tree is Western and was imported to Greece the last 30 years.
The word calanda originates from the Latin word calenda, which means the first day of the month. Families would sing calanda to welcome the new month. This tradition remained unchanged during the medieval years and also during the Turkish occupation.
Even the carols haven’t changed much either; the only difference when it comes to Greek carols of Christmas and New Year is that there are regional variations and even different dialects. You will hear different carols in Thrace, Macedonia, Epirus and the islands.
There are common carols as well that are sung on the Christmas Eve, the New Year’s Eve and the Epiphany day. Children gather and go from a house to house singing the carols of the day, accompanying their singing with a triangle. People are expected to listen to the carols and then give money and pastries.
Greek carols of Christmas and New Year
On Christmas eve, early in the morning, children go out to sing the Christmas Carols. They go to houses and shops and ask “na ta poume” which means “shall we say them”? They sing the carols – or just a few verses – and wish Merry Christmas, waiting for their small reward.
The Christmas Carols are totally different than the ones sung on the Eve of New Year. Christmas Carols are all about the birth of Jesus and the well being of the home owners, while New Year’s carols refer to the wishes for the New Year that is starting.