Santa Claus was a Greek
Jeremy Guest: December 2011
Santa Claus was a Greek.
Once upon a time Christmas was not much of a holiday in Greece, not compared with Easter anyway. Rampant consumerism and western-style gluttony is slowly taking over.
Nowadays Christmas in Greece is wrapped up in with gaudy decorations, tinsel, winking lights and as many expensive presents as can be shoved into a seasonal sack.
The original Agios Nikolaos — or Santa to you and me — was a actually a Greek. As Bishop of Myrna he was famed for his generosity, spending a large family inheritance on helping the poor.
It is said he dropped a small bag of gold down a chimney to give the daughters of the house a decent dowry.
It is western commercial interests that gave the free-spending Bishop an American accent, resettled him in Lapland, sat him on a sleigh and morphed him into a bewiskered old lard barrel in a red cloak.
Nowhere is the western influence more strongly felt than Athens where the city fathers try to outdo rival western capitals in both flamboyance and vulgarity.
City fathers boast of the biggest Christmas tree in Europe towering over the city's busy Syntagma square and surround it with live stage shows by popular Greek entertainers.
In Greece, there are many Christmas customs that are slightly different to those in the West. Christmas Eve children will go from house to house offering singing 'kalanda', the equivalent of Christmas carols.
In a Greek Christmas, the feast is the main attraction. Lamb and pork have recently been ousted by turkey but every table has a loaf of 'christopsomo' (christ bread).
Decorated Christmas trees have become common in recent years and almost every home has a shallow wooden bowl suspended by wire with a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross.
Historically, it was only in 354 AD that December 25 was designated Christ's birthday. The date originally celebrated the birth of the ancient god sun god Mithra, known as the 'Invincible' and most supreme of all the solar deities.