Worldwide, when people want to celebrate an important event in their life, they tend to decorate their living place to highlight that unique moment. Greek people are not the exception. Being a maritime nation, Greece has a long naval heritage which influenced the country’s folkway. Therefore, Greeks created a custom to also decorate their boats, even the small ones at their home, by adding ornaments and lights. The illuminated boat symbolizes the country’s love and respect towards the sea.
Many decades ago, at least one person per household was a seafarer. In order to provide their family with enough money for necessities, going onboard was a great option. Usually, the seafarer would be far from home during the holiday season and the communication with his family was undoubtedly hard. While sailing in dangerous weather conditions, their strong belief in religion was their only shelter. Saint Nikolaos is the tutelary of sailors for Orthodox Christians. When they were in danger, they prayed to the Saint to protect them and to let them reunite with their family. The same was done by their family who frequently offer to the Saint a boat as a pledge.
Children who were staying back in Greece, used to create their own toys using convenience materials. The most common of them were wood, paper and thread. Most children were crafting boats inspired by their beloved family member who was sailing around the world. The handmade boat, was not only representing the absent family member but also, was a toy symbolizing their love for the sea. During winter holidays, they were running around the neighborhood singing Christmas songs and proudly holding their toys. When a sailor was returning home, they used to offer him one of the boats as a welcome gift.
Thus, the crafted boats began to become a symbol for many households. People started decorating their boats for luck and prosperity. But the tradition of decorating Christmas trees instead, was introduced to Greece in 1833 when the Bavarian Prince Otto, who was at the time ruling the country (1832 – 1862), decorated the first Christmas tree in his palace in Nafplion. At the beginning, only wealthy families were decorating trees but after World War II, the Christmas tree was more favorable.
Fortunately, the custom of the illuminated boat is not lost, yet.
Residents on islands and seaside regions still opt in favor of decorating boats. Even in urban areas, you can spot huge embellished illuminated boats.