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Saint Basil, the Greek Santa Claus

St. Basil is the Greek Santa Claus. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the birth of Christ on Dec. 25 and also celebrates St. Basil on New Year's Day.

This is a time for parties and gift giving.

Christmas in Greece is traditionally preceded by a fast lasting 40 days.

St. Basil's Day itself was celebrated with Greek dances performed to lutes. Actually, the word “carol” comes from the Greek word "horevo," meaning "to dance."

St. Basil was Greek and born in the 4th century in Anatolia, present-day Turkey.

He was very pious from an early age, devoting his life to Christianity. He became widely known for his generosity for the poor. He is especially noted for his love of children.

The abbreviation “Xmas”, for Christmas, has a Greek origin. The word for Christ in Greek is Xristos (pronounced "Hristos"). Western Europeans began using the initial of Christ's name, "X" for shorthand.

Today, many people don't know this and wrongly think the word is disrespectful.

But one thing that Greeks definitely did not introduce to Christmas was the Christmas tree.

Instead, the season’s symbol was a shallow wooden bowl of holy water over which hung a small wooden cross wrapped in a sprig of basil. Once a day a family member would sprinkle their home after dipping the basil in its water to bless it to keep evil away.

However, today Athens lays claim to displaying each Christmas the largest Christmas tree in Europe.