Christmas Charms and Gifts: the old and the new customs
All of us (almost) know in detail the Greatest and Most Beautiful History of the World. But apart from the Gifts of the Three Wise Men to the Divine Infant, we will hardly find any other evidence of charms, gift exchange, pomegranates, petals, onions, papers and other favorite customs of our present Christmas. Then where did we find them?
When the Three Wise Men crossed the lands of the Empire and not only to offer myrrh, frankincense and gold (which symbolized death, divinity and kingship), the calendar read 25 December 0 (or -1 BC). Therefore, the offering of gifts, and even symbolic ones such as charms and amulets or talismans, existed long before the birth of our Christ.
With perhaps the most well-known celebration that took place in the same period and provided for the exchange of gifts, the Roman Saturnalia, in honor of Saturn, which lasted from December 17-23, while the customs included the exchange of gifts, animal sacrifices (and baking them of course), gambling and other familiar Christmas customs. The feast started again on December 25 with the Vroomalia in honor of the Sun, where the “price” this time was paid for by the family’s pork! It could not be, of course, from such a happy and family month, that the biggest and most joyous celebration of Christianity is absent.
Pomegranates, onions and charms
The breaking of the pomegranate, which usually takes place at the coming of the new year, originates from Ancient Greece, where a pomegranate was broken on the floor of the new house before it was occupied. In some regions of the country, they keep a pomegranate from Stavros (September 14) and put it together with the icons, to break it on New Year’s.
The onion, which is also called kremydoskilla or skillolkremmida or koutsoupa or askella or arkoskilla, was considered by the ancient Greeks to be a symbol of rebirth and health as well as a weapon against Baskanism. From then until today, you still see some onions hanging on the front doors of Greek houses on New Year’s Eve.
Charms, i.e. small objects with some illustration or symbolism, are often identified with talismans, although charms usually symbolize our wish for something lucky that we would like to happen, while talismans exist to protect us from something bad. That is why charms usually have happy and hopeful designs and do not exactly depict our desire, but describe it symbolically. The ancient Greeks mainly with hare’s feet and Pagano, the Romans and the Northern peoples with horseshoes and rings, tried to appease the Gods and the fate they controlled.
The modern Greeks again, knowing from the ancients the art of jewelry making but also the importance of symbolism and fate, have in recent years their own customs. They are waiting for the Christmas windows to be decorated and to go through the big central jewelry stores to see the charms they designed in Lalaounis, FaCad’oro, etc. and give them to their loved ones for good luck in the new year!
Happy Holidays and good luck for the new year, with our charms and any other ancient or new custom that brings us smiles and optimism!