Greek Christmas Eve Tradition of Singing Carols (Kalanda)
Like many parts of the world, there is a tradition in Greece of going door to door to sing Christmas carols. However, unlike in other parts of the world, this is primarily done in Greece by children, who are often invited into people’s homes for a snack after they are done singing. When they are done with their visit, they move on to the next house.
What is the Greek Kalanda Tradition?
A carol is also known as Kalanda or Kalanta in Greek. These carols play an important part in Greek Christmas tradition and they are typically sung on both New Year’s Eve and Epiphany Eve, which is on January 5. Children go door to door singing, often carrying triangles and other instruments, such as drums, to accompany the songs. Their parents often give them some money so that they can buy sweets along the way. The children first start their visit by knocking on the door. They ask, “Na ta poume? Translated in English this means, “Shall we say it?” or “Shall we sing?” The answer, of course, is yes. Once you agree to let them sing, they begin. Once the song is over, they are usually invited in where they are given a small gift or asked to enjoy some refreshment with the family, such as some cookies or a kouloura, which is a type of sweet roll that is often sold in bakeries and as a street food.
Which Songs are Sung?
A variety of songs are sung, such as a Greek translation of “Silent Night” and other traditional carols. Although some of them are translated from other carols that are sung, there are some unique ones. In particular, the “Kalanda Song” is also a popular favorite. However, no matter what song the kids sing, they usually add some verse that wishes the head of the household a long life and prosperity. This is what they sing:
Σ’ αυτό το σπίτι που ‘ρθαμε,
πέτρα να μη ραγίσει
κι ο νοικοκύρης του σπιτιού
χρόνια πολλά να ζήσει.
In this house we have come
No stone may ever crack
And the landlord
May live for many years.
Where Did the Tradition Come From?
Caroling has been a part of Christmas celebrations in Greece for thousands of years. In fact, it has its roots in Ancient Greece where children would carry small boats and sing songs honoring Dionysius. The tradition of praising the head of household also began in Ancient Greece. In addition to singing songs to honor their god, they would also bestow the household with a gift of an olive branch, which also signified prosperity. Today, many elements of this ancient tradition still exist. First of all, children often do still hold decorated wooden boats while singing the carols. The sentiment is also the same – they wish the homeowners health, wealth, and prosperity by what they sing.
Can Carols be Sung in Church?
Since caroling door-to-door in America is almost a practical impossibility, carols are typically sung in local churches, either in the sanctuary (in the choir loft or kleros) or the church hall as part of a Christmas Pageant. Carols, whether they are Greek or English or of other ethnic origin, are not a rubrical requirement or prescribed by the Typikon. The practice of singing carols constitutes what might be called “tradition” with a lower case “t”—not required by the Holy Church’s liturgical practices but loved and appreciated by the Faithful. Whether or not they are sung and where they are sung outside of the Divine Services is entirely the decision of the clergy; the decision is stated clearly in the expression: “as the proistamenos wishes.”