With Greece being an ancient maritime country, the decoration of the traditional fishing boat dates hundreds of years when the majority of Greeks were working as sea men. During the Christmas time the family would decorate a small wooden boat to symbolise their thankful spirit for the safe return of the father and his sons against the odds of nature and the harsh winter sea.
During the Christmas festive season, the family’s children used to build a paper and wood model ship which was embellished with coloured paper and ropes and wandered from home to home singing the traditional Greek carols usually accompanied by instruments such as triangles, guitars, accordions and harmonicas. In this boat the children tucked away their Christmas pastries, cross buns and treats from the residents they sung for.
An alternative explanation to the decorated boats, has Saint Nicholas, Patron Saint of Sailors, playing a part in the origin of this wonderful, Greek Christmas tradition.
Boats are decorated, in Saint Nicholas’s honour, as a sort of insurance for bringing the salty sea dogs into port safely. As the feast Day of Saint Nicholas takes place on 6th December, this is the day boats are decorated, and are displayed until 6th January, Epiphany.
With the introduction of the first Christmas tree in 1833 by king Otto, the decoration of the sailing boat declined, but it is still alive and well in its birthplace; the Greek Islands with some municipalities making commendable efforts to restore the custom in its original form, with boats adorning the central city squares instead of the usual Christmas tree.