Marco Polo’s 24 Holiday traditions from around the world – Day 19: Greek Christmas Boat

It’s Day 19 of our Advent Calendar and it’s time to head over to Greece to find an alternative for the Christmas tree. Did you miss yesterday’s post? Check it out here!



If you are spending Christmas in Greece, and you take a walk in a harbour, you may see sailboats decorated with lights. Greece is a country of seafarers so it is hardly surprising that this  Christmas tradition revolves around boats. Especially on the Greek islands, such as Crete, this age old tradition is still going strong, and many people choose to even put up a decorated miniature boat in their home instead of a Christmas tree.

There are many variations to how the tradition supposedly came to be. Allegedly, it was customary for the wives of the homecoming sailors to decorate boats and place them by the fire to welcome their husbands home, and to symbolise the safe return of the ships.

Other sources link the tradition to the patron saint of sailors, Saint Nicholas, and indeed, the boats are traditionally decorated on December 6th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. Sometimes, the boats are also filled with gold coins – or these days, with chocolate coins – which are also a symbol of Saint Nicholas.

The tradition somewhat dwindled in popularity in the 19th century when the German kings of Greece started decorating Christmas trees instead, but in the islands the Christmas boats maintained their place in people’s homes. These days the boats are making a comeback on the mainland as well, and many cities display a large decorated vessel for all to admire.

Would you switch your Christmas tree for a more nautical centrepiece?

Buy the Marco Polo Crete Spiral Guide.

Crete Marco Polo Guide

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