In Greece we love and cherish Christmas and nearly every sub-region of Greece has its traditional food favorites. Crete, of course, has its own culinary traditions that vary from village to village and from household to household. For the visitors of Crete, the exploration of the island’s local cuisine during Christmas holiday is an additional journey of discovery and a significant culinary experience.
The Christmas season, known as Dodekaimero (twelve days), is in full swing by December 24 and will last through January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany. No dining table would be complete without a bowl of kourambiedes and melomakarona, the traditional Christmas treats to tempt guests throughout the holiday. Melomakarona are oil-based cookies dipped in a syrup of cinnamon and honey, and then sprinkled with crumbled nuts. Kourabiedes are short-bread almond cookies rolled generously in confectioner’s sugar.
The Christmas holiday itself starts with a huge dinner on Christmas Eve where the Christmas hog is served, an oven-baked pork prepared with lemon leaves, which give the dish a special fragrance. The custom actually derives from ancient Greece, where during the same season people used to sacrifice a pig to honor the god Cronos (later renamed as Saturn by the Romans) and his daughter Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and fertility, and ensure a good harvest. Village-style sausages, apaki (cured pork), tsigarides (crispy suet) and other pork-based Cretan delicacies are also prepared from the meat of the pig.
Like all Greek religious holidays, in Crete there are special foods that are made just for those occasions. Served on Christmas Day, christopsomo, the special festive semi-sweet, light, buttery bread, infused with cinnamon, orange and cloves, is perhaps the most important Cretan food tradition and considered as blessed bread.
Blessed with many fine culinary delights and traditions, the New Years Eve festive table is adorned with vasilopita, the King’s Cake, with which Greeks traditionally welcome the New Year. Cutting the traditional sweet cake, which contains a hidden coin, is one of the traditions locals follow with devotion, hoping to find the coin that is said to bring them blessings throughout the whole year.
Kala Christouyenna! Merry Christmas!
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