On Christmas Eve in Greece, children walk through the streets of their villages, singing Christmas carols announcing the birth of Christ, for which neighbors and shopkeepers reward them with sweets and fruit. It sounds like a hybrid of Christmas and Halloween. And there are some goblins involved: During the holidays, holy water sprinkled throughout a house wards off tiny mythical and mischievous creatures called killantzaroi, which can spook horses and cause milk to spoil. The fireplace goes full blast during the 12 days of Christmas because these creatures are thought to enter from the chimney.
On Christmas Day, the intensity simmers down and families spend quiet time in church and with each other. Central to the celebration is Christopsomto, or Christ's bread, on the table [source: Oppenneer]. A Greek cross decorates the top of this loaf, with candied cherries or walnut halves on the ends of the cross. Often, the top of the loaf includes objects reflecting the family's profession.
In Russia, Easter food also drips with meaning, as you'll see on the next page.