Christmas Cookies, Old World-Style


Photo by Aglaia Kremezi

To view a slide show featuring images of Greek Christmas cookies, click here.

Historically, Christmas was never a major celebration in Greece. Easter is our biggest feast, and besides parading form house to house on Christmas and New Year's Eve to sing kalanda--the Greek version of carols--collecting money or sweets, there was little else traditionally observed.

So when we came out of the hardships of the Second World War and the civil war that followed, we happily adopted the German and northern European Christmas customs of decorating the tree, exchanging gifts, and stuffing and baking the turkey--even though pork was traditionally the festive meat (see my piece on pork slaughtering).

Going through some of our childhood pictures the other day, Costas pointed out a particularly common shot, where he was made to stand on a chair, next to this pathetic little Christmas tree made from colored chicken feathers, decorated with oversized ornaments and grotesque pieces of cotton-wool snow.

We may lack in dazzling Christmas traditions, but we have two particularly wonderful cookies for the holiday.

I, and most Greeks of my generation, and even younger, have similar pictures. Now of course there is a whole industry around the holiday, from growing or importing the Christmas trees, to the more and more elaborate lights and decorations, and many people spend a fortune keeping pace with international trends.

We may lack in dazzling Christmas traditions, but we have two particularly wonderful cookies for the holiday: melomakarona, almost guilt-free, are made with olive oil, orange, spices, and are infused with honey syrup. The recipe is very old, and brings to mind gingerbread cookies.


Photo by Aglaia Kremezi

This is my late mother's recipe. Every Greek woman has her own version, plus the ones the bakeries prepare in bulk this time of the year. Our family preferred drier cookies, so my mother submerged them in syrup the next day, when completely cold and hard, so that they absorbed less honeyed syrup. If you prefer more honey-doused, softer melokarona, dip them in the syrup when they are still somewhat warm.

Kourambiedes, the other special sweets of our holiday season, are melt-in-the-mouth cookies, rich with roasted almonds, and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. In the old days, lard was used, making the dough crunchy and light. Keeping true to the island tradition, I have resisted today's more common butter version and make my dough with a combination of lard and olive oil.

Recipe: Melomakarona (Orange Spice Cookies)
Recipe: Kourambiedes (Roasted Almond Cookies)

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Aglaia Kremezi writes about food in Greek, European, and American magazines, publishes books about Mediterranean cooking in the U.S. and Greece, and teaches cooking classes. More

Aglaia Kremezi has changed her life and her profession many times over. She currently writes about food in Greek, European and American magazines, publishes books about Greek and Mediterranean cooking in the US and in Greece, and teaches cooking to small groups of travelers who visit Kea. Before that she was a journalist and editor, writing about everything, except politics. She has been the editor in chief and the creator of news, women's, and life-style magazines, her last disastrous venture being a "TV guide for thinking people," a contradiction in terms, at least in her country. She studied art, graphic design, and photography at the Polytechnic of Central London. For five years she taught photography to graphic designers while freelancing as a news and fashion photographer for Athenian magazines and newspapers. Editors liked her extended captions more than the pieces the journalists submitted for the events she took pictures for, so she was encouraged to do her own stories, gradually becoming a full time journalist and editor. You can visit her website at

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