With Christmas lurking just around the corner, as we are only a few weeks away from this great celebration of Christianity, preparations for honoring the birth of Jesus Christ have already begun in every corner of Greece. Each part of Greece though, follows its very own festive tradition in order to welcome the Lord appropriately.
One of the rarest of these customs is that of the Christmas Kouloura of Zakynthos. “Kouloura” literally means something that is round and refers to a type of bread, like a cake, that is being cut at Christmas Eve by the local households, who continue to preserve the preparation of Kouloura with reverence.
The day before Christmas, the women of the house start kneading the bread in wooden tubs, always following the demands of the tradition. In order for the Kouloura to be prepared as needed, the housewives use flour of great quality, finely refined, including a great proportion of aromatic herbs in the mixture, as well as nuts, raisins, wine and olive oil. This bread is then decorated with artistic motives of its own dough and it is “enriched” with a golden or silver coin which is called “Eurema” (ie finding/something to be found). After the bread is baked in the evening of the same day, the man of the house takes it in his hands and crosses it three times (one for the Lord, one for the Jesus Christ and one for the Holy spirit) singing a byzantine hymn. Then, the custom has it that one of the younger members of the family takes a rifle and shoots through the window symbolising the joyful news of Jesus Christ's birth, but that’s not something often practiced.
The ritual comes to an end when the “Kouloura” returns to the table in order to be cut in pieces. The first piece belongs to the Jesus Christ, the second to the poor and the third one to the house. After distinguishing the symbolic pieces, all the member of the family receive their piece with the youngest person to be last in line. Whoever finds the “Eurema” in their piece considered as blessed and lucky for the next whole year which rises in just a few days.
For the people of Zante Christmas Eve in spite of the obvious symbolism of the birth of Jesus, also symbolizes the retention of Christian faith throughout all those centuries under Catholic influence.