Christmas plants

Some of the most popular plants and flowers of the festive season are not only beautiful to look at and essential for holiday decorations, they also have interesting stories behind them with direct links with our ancestors.

Poinsettias are a Christmas trademark in many countries all around the world. The Aztecs considered them a symbol of purity whilst the shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem which led the Wise Men to Jesus. The red coloured leaves on the other hand symbolise the blood of Christ.

Holly is yet another plant that despite its pagan symbolic associations was adopted in Christianity and still used today in abundance to decorate our homes at Christmas. It is considered a symbol of Christ’s crown of thorns, its berries a symbol of his blood and the evergreen a metaphor for life after death.

Although the kiss under the mistletoe is a foreign tradition that has not been widespread in Greece, mistletoe is an integral part of the festive atmosphere, and has become quite popular in Greek homes as well. The plant of lovers is a symbol of happiness and fertility and has a quite long history. The Gauls used it for their magic potions, the medieval witches for their spells, while the ancient Greeks and Romans considered it a cure for many ailments.

Along with the above, the delicate cyclamens, the impressive amaryllises and the striking stars of Bethlehem flower, add to a cheerful and festive sight that get us all in the Christmas mood.

Which is your favourite holiday plant?

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Μερικά από τα πιο δημοφιλή φυτά και λουλούδια της γιορτινής περιόδου δεν είναι μόνο όμορφα να τα βλέπει κανείς και απαραίτητα για τις χριστουγεννιάτικες διακοσμήσεις μας, αλλά έχουν και ενδιαφέρουσες ιστορίες να μας πουν με βαθιές ρίζες στο παρελθόν.

Τα αλεξανδρινά θεωρούνται τα κατεξοχήν Χριστουγεννιάτικα φυτά σε πολλές χώρες του κόσμου. Οι Αζτέκοι τα θεωρούσαν σύμβολο αγνότητας, ενώ το σχήμα του λουλουδιού και των φύλλων του Αλεξανδρινού θεωρούνται κάποιες φορές ως σύμβολο του αστεριού της Βηθλεέμ που οδήγησε τους Μάγους στον Ιησού. Τα κόκκινα φύλλα από την άλλη πλευρά συμβολίζουν το αίμα του Χριστού.

Το ου είναι ακόμη ένα φυτό που παρά τις ειδωλολατρικές συμβολικές του καταβολές υιοθετήθηκε από τον Χριστιανισμό και εξακολουθεί να χρησιμοποιείται σήμερα σε αφθονία στη χριστουγεννιάτικη διακόσμηση. Το ου θεωρείται σύμβολο του ακάνθινου στεφανιού του Ιησού, οι καρποί του είναι σύμβολο του αίματός του, ενώ το γεγονός ότι είναι ένα αειθαλές φυτό αποτελεί συχνά μεταφορά για τη ζωή μετά τον θάνατο.

Αν και το φιλί κάτω από το γκι είναι μια ξένη παράδοση με μεσαιωνικές ρίζες, που δεν έχει διαδοθεί στην Ελλάδα, το γκι αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο μέρος της γιορτινής ατμόσφαιρας και έχει γίνει αρκετά δημοφιλές και στα ελληνικά σπίτια. Το φυτό των εραστών είναι σύμβολο ευτυχίας και γονιμότητας κι έχει μια πολύ μακρά ιστορία. Οι Γαλάτες το χρησιμοποίησαν για τα μαγικά τους φίλτρα, οι μεσαιωνικές μάγισσες για τα ξόρκιά τους, ενώ οι αρχαίοι Έλληνες και οι Ρωμαίοι του απέδιδαν θεραπευτικές ιδιότητες για πολλές ασθένειες.

Μαζί με τα παραπάνω, τα ευαίσθητα κυκλάμινα, οι εντυπωσιακές αμαρυλλίδες και τα ολόλευκα λουλούδια του αστεριού της Βηθλεέμ, προσθέτουν μια χαρούμενη και εορταστική νότα που μας βάζουν όλους στη χριστουγεννιάτικη διάθεση.

Εσάς, ποιο είναι το αγαπημένο σας χριστουγεννιάτικο λουλούδι;

Kourabiedes

½ kg goat butter
½ cup icing sugar for the dough
1 egg
1 liqueur glass cognac
1 kg plain flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
200 g roughly chopped, blanched and roasted almonds
1 kg icing sugar for coating

Beat the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, the egg and the cognac and continue to beat. Combine the flour with the baking soda and gradually add it into the butter mix. Beat on low speed until fully incorporated. Add the almonds and fold to combine. Shape the dough into small round cookies and bake at 180C for about 20′, until golden brown. Fill two large bowls with icing sugar. Remove from the oven and while still hot coat them well in the icing sugar by dipping them first in one bowl and then into the other (photo courtesy of The Tasty Other).

and in Greek:

  • ½ κιλό φρέσκο βούτυρο γάλακτος
  • 1/2 φλυτζάνι ζάχαρη άχνη για τη ζύμη
  • 1 αυγό
  • 1 ποτηράκι του λικέρ κονιάκ
  • 1 κιλό αλεύρι
  • ½  κουταλάκι γλυκού σόδα
  • 200 γρ αμύγδαλα ξεφλουδισμένα και καβουρδισμένα
  • 1 κιλό ζάχαρη άχνη για το σκέπασμα

Χτυπάμε το βούτυρο μέχρι να ασπρίσει, ρίχνουμε λίγη λίγη τη ζάχαρη, προσθέτουμε το αυγό και το κονιάκ και συνεχίζουμε το χτύπημα. Ανακατεύουμε το αλεύρι με τη σόδα και το ρίχνουμε στο μίγμα του βουτύρου. Ζυμώνουμε ελαφρά ανακατεύοντας και τα χοντροκομμένα αμύγδαλα. Πλάθουμε τους κουραμπιέδες και ψήνουμε σε μέτριο φούρνο 180 βαθμών κελσίου για 20 λεπτά. Γεμίζουμε δύο μεγάλα μπωλ με ζάχαρη άχνη και μόλις βγάλουμε τους κουραμπιέδες από το φούρνο, πριν κρυώσουν, τους σκεπάζουμε καλά με τη ζάχαρη άχνη πρώτα στο ένα μπωλ και μετά στο άλλο.

Athens and Epidaurus Festival 2020

If you are visiting Greece this summer and fancy a bit of culture, make sure you include the Athens and Epidaurus Festival in your activities.

Running since 1955, the Festival boasts a strong international character, and encompasses a broad spectrum of cultural events, among which ancient drama and modern theatre productions, art exhibitions, classical and contemporary dance and a variety of music performances covering numerous genres. All these are hosted in different acclaimed venues, such as the Herodes Atticus Theatre on the southern slope of Acropolis, the Lycabetus Theatre on Lycabetus Hill and the two ancient theatres at Epidaurus in Peloponnese. Such a unique celebration of culture is certainly not to be missed! (Information on the 2020 events, as well as the detailed programme can be found here).

Greek Carnival Celebrations for Children

We are very excited to celebrate this year’s carnival in collaboration with The Hellenic Centre.

Join us on the 1st March at the Great Hall for an afternoon filled with fun activities. We will start by baking laganes, a delicious bread eaten in Greece just before Lent, and then learn a few fun facts about Greek Carnival. After that, we’ll have a proper Carnival party, filled with great music, balloons & serpentines.

Christmas Cookies

 

Ingredients

405 gr all purpose flour

226 gr unsalted butter

200 gr sugar

1 large egg (or 2 small ones)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ginger

 

Directions

Beat butter with sugar until mixture is fluffy. Add the egg and continue beating. Add all the dry ingredients and mix well until you have a nice dough. Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with corn flour and cut biscuits into desirable shape. Bake at 170 degrees Celsius until golden brown.

New Collaboration!

We are happy to announce our newest collaboration with History Mentor and Dr Simon Phillips. Simon has an extensive experience in teaching English and History in advance exam levels with exquisite results! We can’t wait to start working closely together!

Summer Solstice

Summer solstice, which occurs when the sun is directly over the Tropic of Cancer, or 23.5 degrees north latitude is considered the official start of summer, since it’s the day with the most hours of sunlight in the entire year. This year, June 21 will be the longest day for parts north of the equator, but the shortest for those on the south part.

Two fun facts: since all the planets in our solar system rotate on a tilted axis, they all have seasons, solstices, and equinoxes! There will also be a solar eclipse this summer, on July 2.

The summer solstice, also known as midsummer, has been seen as a significant time of year in many cultures, and has been marked by festivals and rituals since prehistory. Since the 5th century BC the Sun was identified with Apollo and a sunlit night was celebrated as magical, with young men exchanging erotic vows and jumping over fires  to purge themselves.

In contemporary Greece, sun is still celebrated with the fires of Saint John, which are lit around sunset on the eve of St. John, on the night of June 23rd. People throw at the flames the now dried wreaths made on May Day, and those who then jump over the flames make secret wishes, aiming at prosperity and love.

May Day Wreaths

On the 1st of May, it is customary in Greece to make (or buy) a May Day flower wreath (stefani) which we hang outside our home until the flowers dry. It is supposed to bring people closer to nature and keep the ‘evil eye’ at bay whilst it holds a significant symbolic value, associated with the victory of summer over winter and ultimately the power of life over death.

If you want to make it on your own this year, you can follow these simple steps:

You will need some lots of fresh flowers with long stems (such as roses, daisies, anemones, violets, or lilacs), a few flexible tree branches, something to tie everything together (try string, metal rope or some fine yarn) and finally a beautiful ribbon to hang it.

Start by weaving together the flexible tree branches to make the base of the wreath, thread the flowers throughout making sure you leave no gaps, and finally use the string in order to keep everything in place.

Your beautiful homemade May Day wreath is now ready to hang outside of your front door!

Happy May Day!

Easter traditions in Greece

Orthodox Easter is filled with different customs and traditions related to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Many of these are still followed and celebrated all around Greece during the Holy Week (Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα), with the participation in each also being an opportunity for a social gathering.

On the Sunday before Easter and right before the beginning of the Holy Week (Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα in Greek), the Christian Church celebrates one of its most joyous holy days of the year. Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, following the raising of Lazarus from the dead  which is celebrated the Saturday before.

In many places, on this Sunday churches in Greece display a basket containing woven palm crosses, placed on a table in front of an icon of Jesus. However wherever palms are not available, they are substituted with with branches of native trees, including box, olive, willow, and yew. In Greece, the celebration is called Κυριακή των Βαίων (Bay Leaf Sunday), named after the most common type of branch that worshipers carry.

Holy Monday marks the beginning of lent for those who have not already started, but want to receive the holy communion on Holy Saturday. It is a day dedicated to Joseph.

Holy Tuesday is the day when households get clean and tidy, in anticipation of the Resurrection. In some areas, they also make a start with the Easter baking, however this is traditionally done on Thursday.

Holy Wednesday was the day when home makers would prepare the starter for the whole year’s bread. This would be taken to church for a blessing.

Most of the Easter baking and dyeing eggs in a bright red colour takes place on Holy Thursday. Traditional cookies (koulourakia) and tsoureki (a challah-like bread with yeast and egg – photo courtesy of The Tasty Other) are the most common ones, even to this day. In many areas, in the evening, women also go to churches to decorate the epitaph with fresh flowers; in others, this takes place on Holy Friday.

Holy Friday is a day of mourning; in the evenings, people go to church for the procession of the bier of Christ; during the ceremony, they pass under the bier and take the flowers decorating it home, as they are considered blessed. On this day, fasting is even more strict than before, as believers also abstain from olive oil, whereas in many areas, any labour is prohibited.

Holy Saturday marks the first Resurrection of Christ; believers go to church on early morning, while also making preparations for the feast which will take place on the following day. In the evenings, everyone attends church for the actual Resurrection, holding white or beautifully decorated candles which are lit by the Holy Light, which has arrived to every orthodox church straight from Jerusalem. Once back from church, they enjoy a dinner of offal soup (mageiritsa), which is supposed to prepare their bodies for Easter’s heavy food, after more than forty days of lent.

Easter is a day of celebration which involves cooking lamb or goat on a spit, smashing red eggs while sharing the news of Christ’s resurrection.

Happy Easter!

(photo courtesy of The Tasty Other)

Easter workshop at the Hellenic Center!

We had such great fun helping our little friends to make Easter biscuits and beautiful Easter baskets!