When it comes to Christmas, many plan to spend the day at home, while others take a trip abroad. However, thanks to Greek traditions making a comeback, more and more are opting to spend Christmas on the water with a record number of Britons taking a cruise in 2017.
In the last few years celebrating the festive season on the water has grown in popularity and according to Marine Operator BWML, the number of people who live on a boat has increased. When walking down canals seeing decorated boats is becoming a popular choice for many, but how did this tradition begin? Let’s find out!
Long before cars and planes, boats were the main source of transportation with men having to travel for long stretches of time. Made up of over a thousand islands, Greece was one of the biggest nations of sailors and often embarked the rough waters.
While at sea, the Greek women were left at home and during the cold winters watched out for their fathers, husbands and sons safe journey home. Worried about battling with the waves, they would pray for their return and when the ships were finally spotted celebration broke out.
To welcome the men home, the women would celebrate by decorating small wooden boats, which were usually arranged on the floor. The boats would have their bows pointing inwards, symbolising the homeward journey and shows similarity to the Christmas tradition of decorating a tree.
The First Christmas Tree
The tradition was passed down over the years and eventually became a Greek Christmas ritual. In honour of Saint Nicolas, Patron Saint of Sailors, boats were decorated to ensure sailors would make their way back to safety and would take place on 6th December every year.
Residents would throw gold coins into the boats for luck and when Christmas Eve came around, carol singers would walk around with handmade boats, which others would place treats in.
It wasn’t until 1833 that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Greece by King Otto of Bavaria, the first King of liberated Greece, who brought the Christmas tree tradition along with him. He put the Christmas tree next to the decorated boat and every year had a Christmas tree at his palace in Athens. This led to many Greeks decorating their own Christmas trees and began a new tradition for the country.
Decorative Boats Make a Come Back
In 1977, decorative boats were still a common sight, but sadly over time it became an afterthought as the Christmas tree took all the limelight. European Christmas traditions became more popular and it wasn’t until 1999 that the decorative boat finally came back when Thessaloniki, Greece’s capital of the North, had a large boat display.
Although, the next boat was not seen until 2013, when Athens put a boat in Syntagma Square, the tradition has been growing in popularity since and has even spread across the globe.
It is great to see this tradition refreshed and UK Narrowboat Owner, Julie Cox, explains: “Lots decorate their boats inside and out with lights or something that stands up to outside conditions.”
Is Boating the Future of Christmas?
As the trend of decorating boats becomes common again, it can be suggested the sudden rise in popularity has to do with more people living on waterways. As of the beginning of 2018, it’s estimated that there are now more than 15,000 people that live afloat full-time – that’s just the UK. Many residents live in London, as canal life is cheaper than buying a house and offers a more peaceful environment.
One boat owner, explained: “I had always dreamed of selling up and buying a boat in the Ionian seas. Now I spend half year in the UK and the other in Greece.
I moved on board last year and the benefits include a more relaxed lifestyle. Everything is not so rushed and it is particularly nice around the festive period with so many events taking place.”
New Festive Traditions
Now the Greek tradition has returned many more may follow, such as smashing a bottle of champagne against the boat or throwing wine over the deck for luck. Either way it’s clear that new festive customs will come and go and boating life has stood the test of time. For some it has become a home and it’s their turn to make their own Christmas traditions.
Julie, says: “We don’t have any traditions as such, except breakfast, which must be scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. We love boating on Christmas Day with carols playing and there is not quite the same pressure to create the ‘perfect’ experience! It’s much more relaxed!
Additionally, our New Year’s Eve varies. We sometimes just enjoy a nice meal with wine and have been known to be asleep before 12! Other years we’ve got together at a friend’s house and had small parties.”
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