Gift exchanges in Greece is a part of Christmas and New Year’s festivities and people all over the country look forward to it. The custom of exchanging gifts has deep roots in Greek tradition. In addition to the Bible story of the Magi bringing gifts to the newborn Christ, the legends of two Greek Christian Saints have been passed down over many centuries.
The first is St. Nicholas, whose Greek name is Nikolaos of Myra, a historic Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra of the a fourth-century, in Asia Minor (modern-day Demre, Turkey). According to folklore, Nikolaos had a friend who couldn’t afford dowries for his three daughters. At this time it was disgraceful for women to remain unmarried. So Nikolaos wanted to help his friend without shaming him in public. He crept to the man’s house in the dead of night and tossed three purses full of gold through a window.
The other story concerns St. Basil of Caesarea (329 – 379), the Greek bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In addition to his work as a theologian, Basil was known for his care of the poor and underprivileged. He was wealthy but also felt close to the poor. He was especially taken with children and gave all his possessions to impoverished families. In Greek tradition, he brings gifts to children every January 1 (St Basil’s Day). It is traditional on St Basil’s Day to serve vasilopita, a rich bread baked with a coin inside. Whoever gets to win the coin is considered to be the «lucky» person of the household. Santa Claus is the western version of St. Basil.
Timing. In Greece, unlike what happens in other christian countries, the traditional day for exchanging gifts is on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day.
Exchange with Close Friends and Family Members. You don’t really give gifts to people that you don’t know that well. The honor of giving and receiving a gift is usually reserved for those who have a special place in a person’s life.
Obey the Rules for Wrapping and Opening. Another important rule is that a gift should always be wrapped. Not only that, but it is considered impolite for the recipient to wait. It should be opened at the spot.
Don’t Spend Too Much Money. Gifts should be meaningful but not too expensive. Exchanged gifts should be of equal value.When you give out an expensive gift, you make it difficult for a friend or a member of your family to reciprocate.
Never Give a Knife, Scissors, or Anything Sharp. In Greece, knives and scissors should not be given out as Christmas gifts. It is normally considered bad luck to give something sharp.