Why Greeks Smash Pomegranates at Christmas Eve and Weddings?

By: Maydaa Abo El-Nadar

Athens, Jan. 5 (SEE) – Traditions of a country could be seen strange to another if the origins behind these are ambiguous. Smashing pomegranates during Christian feasts or at weddings in Greece is considered for many outside this ancient country as a strange tradition.

Thus, to decode the mystery behind the tradition, it is important to know the pomegranate’s significance in Greek mythology.

According to the Greek mythology, Hades (the underworld’s god) abducted Persephone to the underworld to be his wife. Thus, Demeter (goddess of fertility and Persephone’s mother) stopped everything on earth from growing. Zeus (Persephone’s father) ordered Hades (Zeus’s brother) to set Persephone’s free. There was a rule that anyone who ate or drunk in the underworld, was obliged to eternally stay there. Hades utilized this rule and tricked Persephone by letting her eat six pomegranate seeds. So Persephone had to stay there six months, but to meet her mother, Hades accepted to liberate her the other six months of the year. Persephone stayed at the above world with her mother in summer and spring, while she stayed in the underworld in autumn and winter. During her stay in the underworld, Demeter was lamenting her daughter’s absence, so the earth was infertile. This is why, to ask for fertile land, pomegranates were being offered to Demeter.

Hera, the goddess of woman, family, marriage, and childbirth, has another story with the pomegranate, at her sanctuary called the Argive Heraion, in the Greek city of Argos. The goddess was depicted by Polykleitos (an ancient Greek sculptor), in a cult image, offering a pomegranate, symbolizing fertile blood and marriage. Some Greek dialects call pomegranate Rhoa, referring to Hera’s mother Rhea.

Nowadays pomegranate continues to symbolize fertility and prosperity in Greece. On 21 November to celebrate the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, pomegranates are placed on the Greek houses’ tables. At funerals and memorial services of the Greek Orthodox Church, pomegranate seeds are used to decorate Koliva (a dish based on boiled wheat).

During Christmas time in Greece, pomegranates are everywhere, for example, on the houses’ doors and decorating shops. But how does the tradition of smashing a pomegranate on the Christmas Eve goes? Before midnight, to symbolize the old year that passed, all lights at the house are turned off. The family gathers outside and when it is 12 midnight, someone throw a pomegranate on the doorstep. More seeds on the floor means luckier the family will be in the New Year. If someone is stained by the fruit’s juice, it means that he will be lucky. Smashing the fruit is done with right hand to bring blessing.

Smashing pomegranate’s tradition varies across the Greek soil. In Greek villages scattering the fruit, it is carried to be blessed at the Church. Some Greeks believe that the man of the house is the one who should scatter the fruit.

In addition to the pomegranate’s significance in Christian celebrations, at traditional Greek weddings, pomegranate is smashed on the ground. The distributed seeds on the ground mean good luck and many children to the grooms.

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