Why Greeks put snake on a Christmas bread?
Greek Christmas bread, known as Christopsomo (Christ’s bread) appears to have its origin in the ancient Greek festive breads and bloodless sacrifices that were given to the gods to earn their favor. They are made the day before Christmas and there is a lot of care put into their baking. Either plain or sweet spiced, they are always made with the best quality of ingredients.
Christmas breads are decorated with a cross, a small Jesus figurine, daisies, half moons, snakes* and many fertility and prosperity symbols made of dough; they have walnuts in the shell embedded in them. The walnuts are said to be symbolic of fertility or of the virginity of the Virgin. In some sections of Greece white eggs are used in the middle of the cross, eggs being the symbol of fertility as well.
Among the farming communitities of the north of Greece, designs of house and farm implements sculpted in dough on top of the bread are very common. Other areas use the church seal as decoration. Depending on each family’s life, represantations of shepherd, dogs, hens, sheeps, oxen, wheat branch etc. can be also found on Christmas loaves.
Some of the most impressive Christopsoma are made by Sarakatsanoi. Having always been shepherds, Sarakatsanoi consider Christmas to be a pastoral festival so they decorate the bread with scenes from pastoral life.
Small anthropomorphic or zoomorphic breads and breads in the shape of 8 or of the hand and leg of baby Jesus are given to the children.
In many parts of Greece special breads are made for the animals. They are made from the same dough as that used for the family’s Christopsomo and represent each animal that is owned.
Slices of Christopsomo are offered to the first beggar or stranger who comes to the house.
Women go the cemetery to pray for their departed and distribute Christmas breads to the poor and to children.
In some parts of Greece, christopsomo is broken on the head of the “head” of the household
*Till the 2nd WW a snake found near the home or in the house was considered to bring good luck, protection and fertility. This belief has its origin in ancient Greek oikouros ophis, which literally means the guard or watcher snake of the house.