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PHOTOS: The Cretan custom of Christmas Hog in the Botanical Park

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The traditional Cretan custom of “Hirosfagia” (The Christmas Hog) revived in the Botanical Park at Fournes, Chania on Saturday.

Many visitors tasted several recipes, based on pork.

It has to be mentioned that all pork meat was delivered by pigsties from Rethymno and there was no pig slaughter in public.

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The Christmas Hog

In olden times in Crete it was the custom for each family in the village to raise a pig, or “hog” (hiros in Greek), which would be slaughtered on Christmas Eve and served as the main holiday dish the next day.

On the second day of Christmas the villagers would cut up the pork meat and make:

  • Sausages
  • Apakia – the pork is cut into chunks and then smoked
  • Pihti – the hog’s head is boned and all the meat is boiled. Then the stock, after special preparation, is made into a delicious gelatin mold with pieces of the meat in it.
  • Siglina – the pork meat is cut into small pieces, then cooked and stored, covered with lard, in large pots. This way the meat could be kept for many months
  • Omathies – the pig’s intestines are stuffed with rice, raisins and bits of liver
  • Tsigarithes – pieces of lard cooked with spices and eaten with leaven bread for the mid-morning meal when they picked olives

The Christmas hog was the basic source of meat for many weeks. Of course, we are referring to a diet particularly poor in meat – the famous Cretan (Mediterranean) diet which provided Cretans of yesteryear with good health and longevity.

Nothing was wasted from the Christmas hog, as there was a use for each piece of the animal. Even the bladder, or “balloon” as it’s known, would be washed out and cleaned, then blown up and used as a ball – a precious gift for the children of that day.

In many areas around Greece in the past, parts of the pig would be used as a basis for several home remedies, while other pieces were used for sooth-saying. The slaughterer, or one on the elders in a diviner role, would study and interpret the animal’s entrails. Then he would make predictions of the future for such things as the home, the harvest and the weather.

NOTE 1: The custom of the turkey for Christmas arrived in Europe from Mexico in 1824 A. D. It is now widely used in Greece and has almost replaced the pork meat for holiday fare – but not completely.

NOTE 2: The folklore writer Kostas Karapatakis, in his book “The Christmastide, Old Christmas Customs and Traditions,” reports that the Romans would sacrifice pigs to the gods Dimitra and Kronos so they would favor them in cultivating the land. This would take place from December 17 through 25, which was also the period for slaughtering the animals until a few years ago.

(with info from explorecrete.com)