Greek Carols for Christmas, new Year and Epiphany in Greece

A very old custom which remains today practically unchanged is the Greek Christmas carols, which is called calanda in Greek. Children, in groups of two or more, still make the rounds of houses singing carols, usually accompanied by the triangle or guitars, accordions or harmonicas.

Painting by Nikiforos Lytras with children singing the Christmas carols
Children singing the Christmas carols in Greece. Painting by Nikiforos Lytras

The children go from house to house, knock on doors and ask: “shall we say them?” If the homeowner’s answer is yes, the kids sing the Christmas carols for several minutes before finishing up with the wish, “And for the next year, many happy returns.” Years ago the homeowners offered the children holiday sweets and pastries, but today they usually give them some money.

The carols are sung on the eves of Christmas, New Year and Epiphany, and they are different for each holiday.

History of Christmas Carols in Greece

children singing the Greek Christmas carols in Greece in the 50s
Children singing the Christmas carols in Greece in the 50s

The word calanda stems from the Latin calenda, which translates as “the beginning of the month.” It is believed that the history of caroling goes deep into the past and connects with ancient Greece. In fact, they have even found carols written in those distant past days which are similar to the ones sung today. In ancient times the word for carols was Eiresioni , and children of that era held an effigy of a ship which depicted the arrival of the god Dionysos. Other times they held an olive or laurel branch decorated with red and white threads, on which they would tie the offerings of the homeowners.

This Eiresioni song from the Homeric period can still be heard today – with small changes – in the carols of Thrace:

In this house we came of the rich-landlord
May its doors open for the wealth to roll in
The wealth and happiness and desired peace should enter
And may its clay jugs fill with honey, wine and oil
And the kneading tub with rising dough.

– Following are the Greek carols for each of the three holidays: Christmas Carols, New Year Carols and Epiphany Carols.

Greek Christmas Carols

Good day lords
If it’s your bidding
Of the Christ’s divine birth
I will tell in your manse

Christ is being born today
In the town of Bethlehem
The heavens rejoice
And all creation delights

In the cave he is born
Within the horse manger
The king of the heavens
And Maker of all.

Traditional Christmas Carols of Crete

Greek New Year’s Carols

First of the month and first of the year
My tall rosemary
Let our good year begin
Church with the holy throne

It is the beginning when Christ
Holy and spiritual
Will walk on earth
And cheer us up

St. Basil is on his way
And will not deign on us
From Kesaria
You’re a Lady milady

Epiphany Carols in Greece

Today is the lights and the enlightment
The happiness is big and the sanctification

Down the Jordan River
Sits our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary

She carries an organ, a candle she holds
And pleads with St. John.

St. John lord and Baptist
Baptize this divine child of mine

I shall ascend to the heavens
To gather roses and incense

Good day, good day
Good day to you master and the missus.

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