New Year traditions in Greece

Dec, 30, 2018

Last Updated on December 31, 2020 by Celeste

The holidays in Greece are celebrated with lots of food, symbols and tradition. In this post, I have listed the most important New Year traditions in Greece.

The name day of Agios Vassilis 

The most important of all New Year Traditions in Greece is Saint Basil or Agios Vassilis, the Greek Santa. Saint Basil arrives a week after Christmas and brings presents for the children on New Year’s Eve.

Basil the Great was born 330 AD and is one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church.  There are many similarities with Saint Nicholas (the first Santa). They were both bishops and known for their kindheartedness, their compassion and their help to the unfortunate and homeless.

Agios Vassilis donated his wealth to the poor and is considered the founder of the first hospitals and orphanages. He died on January first and his name day is celebrated on this day.

Vasilopita or New Year’s lucky cake

You will see many traditional sweets and cakes in bakeries everywhere during the holiday season in Greece. There is only that is specifically created for New Year: the Vasilopita or Greek New Year’s cake. The tradition of the New Year’s cake is connected to Saint Basil and therefore also called King Pie. This cake is made of a variety of dough and appears in different forms depending on the Greek region and family tradition. Inside the cake, a coin – the flouri – is hidden. The person that finds the coin will have good luck and good fortune for the year ahead. The Vasilopita is sliced traditionally representing the cross and this is traditionally done after midnight to bring good luck and blessings to the house.

The connection of Vasilopita and Saint Basil

I was wondering how this cake is connected to Saint Basil. Researched gave me different stories. Some say that Saint Basil called on the citizens of his town Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the siege of the city. Each citizen handed over his gold or jewelry. When the ransom was collected, the enemy was embarrassed the act of collective given and called off the siege. Saint Basil had to return the unpaid ransom to the citizens but had no idea which items belonged to which family. He baked all the jewelry into loaves of bread and distributed them. By a miracle, each citizen received their exact share. In other stories, it is Saint Basil’s attempt to give charity to the poor without embarrassing them or trying to hide his giving to the poor from the king or emperor.

If you want to make your own, have a look at this Vasilopita recipe by Olive Tomato Blog.


My apartment’s doorbell never rings more often than during the holiday season in Greece. And certainly this year my kids have been going around the neighbourhood again the singing of the Kalanta. These traditional Greek Christmas Carols are sung on the day before Christmas and on 31 December. Children go from house to house playing a triangle (in the old days also a drum) and singing traditional Greek Christmas songs. If they sing well, they are rewarded with money or a sweet. In the past, they would also be carrying a boat, a very old custom in the Greek islands.

In Crete children sometimes played the Lyra, a Greek string instrument. In the past, children received sweets, walnuts, dried fruits and biscuits instead of money.  In some villages in Greece, children collected money for their local school.  The money would be handed over to the school teacher to buy books and other materials. The singing of the children is considered to bring good luck. 

New Year traditions in Greece: Goodluck

Good luck plays a very important role in more traditions of the holiday season in Greece. On New Year’s Eve, families get together at home and they often play card games for good luck. The games can go on for hours and end around midnight. The state lottery is very popular during the holiday season in Greece. Rolling dice is another favourite of the New Year traditions in Greece.

Other symbols of good luck are the pomegranate. The fruit is an ancient symbol for good luck and fertility and can be found hanging at the door. By tradition, it can be smashed on the floor for good luck at midnight. In some parts of Greece, it is an onion that will bring good luck. And did you know that on the Cycladic islands it is a north wind or a dove?!

Children are also a symbol of good luck. They receive money on New Year’s Eve, this is called Kali Hera. And the lucky foot is called Kalo Podariko. At midnight, someone considered lucky is asked to leave and to re-enter the house. This is done with the right foot first, and it supposed to bring good luck for the new year.  It is said that luck is only brought by someone with a kind, loving and honest heart, so children are usually chosen to usher in the New Year in this way. A traditional Greek New Year’s present is a  good luck charm, or ‘gouri’

The release of the Kallikantzaroi

Finally, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, the windows of the house are opened to let the Kallikantzaroi out, these are the evil spirits or Christmas goblins. These Kallikantzaroi emerge from the centre of the earth and slip into people’s homes through the fireplace. They are more troublemakers than harmful and believed to do things such as extinguishing fires, ride on people’s backs, braid horse’s tails, and sour the milk. Kallikantzaroi only appear during the 12 days between Christmas until Epiphany on 6 January. Having said that, we have never seen one!

Happy New Year or Kali Chronia!

Related posts:

December 29, 2018


Celeste was born and raised in the Netherlands but lives in Greece for 25 years. She studied at the Dutch Institute of Athens underneath the Acropolis and currently lives with her family in an Athenian suburb. Celeste is the founder of Family Experiences Blog. Whether you and your family live in Greece or are visiting, this blog will show you the very best ways in which to celebrate family life here.

Leave a comment

Related Posts


Family Experiences Blog

Hi, Welcome to my blog! I am Celeste, mom of two girls, who loves to travel. I have spent over 25 years exploring beautiful Greece.

When my kids were born, it became my passion to find quality family destinations. Since then, we have been travelling full time around the country to find kid-friendly spots.

If you need inspiration for planning your family vacation in Greece, I am here to help! As a professional travel blogger and passionate insider parent, I review hotels, places to visit and activities for kids.

Whether you and your family live in Greece, or are visiting, this blog will show you the very best ways to make amazing family memories.

Join me as I explore Greece and life with my family, one tiny adventure at the time!

Click here to read more here.

In the press

Sign up for my Newsletter

Sign up for my newsletter to recieve my latest blog posts, tips for Athens and Greece with kids or upcoming family events.

Member of
Listed at

Blog Frog


In order to grow our small business, Family Experiences Blog earns revenue in a few different ways. We sometimes publish sponsored posts that are always tagged as such. We also sometimes earn an affiliate commission on the sales of products we link to. We feature only items we genuinely love and want to share, and this is an arrangement between the retailer and Family Experiences Blog (readers never pay more for products). These are the ways we support our blog, and allow us to run the site and engage with this community we truly love. Thank you for reading!

Sign up for my Newsletter

Sign up for my newsletter to recieve my latest blog posts, tips for Athens and Greece with kids or upcoming family events.