Christmas in Athens
Are you planning to spend Christmas in Athens?
Did you decide to visit Athens seeing Acropolis for Xmas, instead of crowded summer?* Are you passing by or stopping for Christmas in Athens to feel the holiday vibes? Either way works for you. Just read my article and discover what’s the appropriate ‘activity’ for you. Athens has a magnificently illuminated holiday atmosphere with all these lights decorations in each square, each alley and each coffee place. So, you will not be bored’undoubtedly.
Like all Greek holidays, so Christmas in Athens have their own traditional customs. You can attend festivities almost every afternoon in numerous neighborhoods. Consequently, the way to enjoy the city is to wander around by feet and see the Christmas light decorations.
Greece always been a naval country. So, you can see in many neighborhoods a decorated boat instead of a tree. Especially, at the maritime area of Peiraeus in Korai square. The decorated ship symbolizes the new voyage of people in life, after the birth of Jesus.
The breaking of the pomegranate becomes at New Year’s Day. As a result, the 1st day of each year, after family’s church attendance, they break the pomegranate. Its home has one to break behind the door, after entering with the right foot. Furthermore, the gesture is accompanied with a wish. “With health, happiness and joy in the new year and as many spores as the pomegranate has, so many pounds to have in our pocket all year round.” or “The heavier the pomegranate, the heavier our wallet, the fuller the fruit of the pomegranate, the fuller our house is, and the redder the pomegranate, the redder our hearts are!”
Since pomegranate’s name meaning flow and power, this is a really old custom. Our ancestors believed that the power of the pomegranate was hidden in its numerous grains. This reveals abundance and fertility. Its red-maroon color has also power. This is the color that brings you good luck. That is the reason why many gifts that we exchange with friends at this period contain a wooden-silver-dried etc pomegranate.
Even if you are staying at a hotel, ask to attend this custom that it is as a sign of good luck for the new year.
Carols = Kalada
Christmas Carols is a custom for us Greeks. We believe that at least one group of kids has to sing to us, for good luck. 24th and 31st of December, we anticipatingly waiting for these kids. On the other hand, you can find a group of kids to sing to you inside a store that you are shopping or at the street in front of your hotel. In the same vein, you can see on the street the municipality band walking down the street or hear the song played by street performers. The Carols accompany the ‘triangle’ instrument and Santa’s hats. The householders or shopkeepers etc. have to give to kids coins and melomakarona.
Greeks, we are religious Christian Orthodox. That is to say, that on 25th of December and 1st of January we are going to church. You do not have to be religious to enter to a -laden with Xmas decorations- church in Athens and enjoy the melodies of Christmas psalms. The liturgy for 25th starts at 5:00 and ends at 8:00 and on 1st starts at 7:00 and ends at 10:00, like every Sunday.
Every year around 10th of December the Mayor of Athens turns on the Christmas lights at a tree on Syntagma square. Normally, many Greek singers accompany the event with their concert performances. The Parliament behind the square will also be illuminated.
Christmas in Athens are magical, but the change of the year is magnificent. The mayor turns on the lights at 00:00 and offers free kourabiedes and melomakarona at the attending people. In addition to that, many concerts occur at the square with Greek singers.
24th of December we are celebrating the night of Wishes. Write your Xmas wish in a lantern and let it fly to the night Athenian air along with the others. Afterwards, the audiovisual show will start at the Athens City Hall by Athens Digital Arts Festival.
As I told you to my article our belief about food, so it is for Xmas. You have-to-try all the Xmas delicacies.
St.Basil’s cake (Vasilopita)
Starting from THE cake at New Year’s Day. This cake is dedicated to our Greek Santa Claus, Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis). The cake must be cut on 1st day of the year. Most of the families will cut it after midnight. If you find the hidden coin of the cake, you will be blessed and lucky for the whole year. The 1st piece of the cake goes to our Jesus Christ, the 2nd one to St.Basil who has his name day on 1st of January. Now, the 3rd piece is dedicated to our Virgin Mary and the 4th to the home. The 5th piece goes to the chef that prepared the meal (normally the mother of the house) and all the rest pieces are for the members of the house by order of age.
Melomakarona & Kourabies
Melomakarona is a traditional delicacy for this festive time of the year. So, I advise you to indulge into them. These are honeyed cookies with cinnamon, cloves, sugar, orange, walnuts, oil and flour.
Kourabiedes (plural) are almond-butter cookies with powdered-icing sugar on top. You can find them this time of the year, but also in some weddings all year round.
Make sure you will try both of them. You will be amazed, even if you try the modern tastes, with chocolate or red velvet flavor melomakarona etc.. One is not enough. Never enough.
Hot break-time chocolate
Do you want to rest your feet from Christmas shopping at Ermou street? Moreover, are you tired from all this hustle n’ bustle of the city streets and you need a mulled wine? Snuggle and nestle down at the nearest coffee place or bar of the city. Preferably, to one with a fireplace and offering tranquility from the outside world. Christmas in Athens are w-a-r-m-l-y inside and around 8o C outside. Additionally, Athens is crowded with bars and coffee places. If you want to find your Xmas spirit, then choose one of the places that go all-out for Xmas. Some of my festive favorites with many Xmas decorations are: Little Kook, Fairytale and Noel. However, there are many-many-trust me-many others that you will find at your wanderings in the city under the sparkle of Xmas lights.
Xmm…mostly is bread with fine decorations in its surface, like a cross from gough. But, in some parts of Greece they are preparing it sweet with walnuts, dried figs, raisins and almonds. The custom says that you have to cut it with your hand. You cannot cut the Christopsomo with iron knife that symbolizes the power of the evil.
Diples is a Greek dessert where the main ingredient is honeyed thin dough flavored with cinnamon and nuts. This one is eating on New Year’s day in particular or in weddings. Diples can have different shapes, but the most common are spirals, bows and flowers.
If your hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, do not worry. To clarify, all restaurants in Athens are open on Christmas Day and Eve. You can have a special dinner at a rooftop seeing Acropolis or a meal at Mount Lycabettus to enjoy the view of the whole Athens.
Likewise, this happens also on 31st of December. Most Greeks are eating at home or at a restaurant and making the change of the year. Watching the fireworks explode from house roofs or rooftop bars. Continuing, we are cutting the St.Basil’s cake and then we are heading to bouzoukia to find our friends. Do try a bouzoukia music live stage hall once to enjoy our traditional folk or pop songs. It’s a -loud- experience. Har…har. Others are staying up until dawn playing cards at home with friends.
Tip: Do remember to book a table in advance.
Kids (& adults)
Below I will list some activities for children. However, adults can easily participate in them, if you like to eat chocolate, buying candies etc.
At Technopolis of Athens, in the area of Gazi, every year you will find the largest market for Xmas candies. You can write your letter to Santa at his headquarters and give it to his elves. Moreover, you can play at the Sweet, Joy and Toy Factory. Furthermore, you can attend and participate to many workshops for cookies, cards and ice sculpting, get away from escape rooms and see many festive bands to perform. As soon as you get tired, you can take a look at the Christmas Festival food market and try Christmas delicacies. Mmm…yummy!
Similarly, there is Hilton Christmas Village and many more no-name markets to few neighborhoods around Athens.
Do you like skating? Then at Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) you can find one on the artificial canal. With so many workshops and games for Christmas inside the grassy labyrinth, the kids will never be bored.
Tip: It is better to register online at this skating place.
If you afraid to let the small kids in this big canal to skate outdoors, then you can go to a smaller one. At Nea Smyrni’s square you will find a smaller one with a carousel next to it and a little train and trampoline. While you are waiting for them, do not forget to enjoy the street vendors delicacies like roasted chestnuts and corns.
In the same vain, around Athens there are many ice skating places, indoors and outdoors.
To enhance your Christmas spirit, apart from all these light decorations around the city, you can also watch a movie. 27th to 29th of December the Athens Open Air Film Festival will amaze you with some classics at Thisseio (intersection of Ermou & Asomaton streets) on 18:30 for free. Watch the Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare before Christmas and Roger Rabit movies.
Bonus: Do all that under the lightened Acropolis.
If you have plenty of time, you can go to Santa Claus Kingdom. It is 40minutes from the city center and has many to do. The kids will see Frodi the snowman and Santa Claus and Christmas theater, penguins in the snow and they will attend to many workshops.
Live Christmas show
In Christmas theater there are many performances for kids and adults. You can watch Nutcracker in a ballet or as an opera or Goran Bregovic performing Valkanian carols and listen the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. Certainly, SpongeBob musical or Mickey mouse concert will amaze all kids.
Tip: If you want something not so crowded, you can attend to the Opera inside Grande Bretagne hotel.
I believe that you will feel the Greek spirit even more on Christmas in Athens, as there are no crowded with many tourists. If you’re planning Christmas in Athens, I highly recommend that you do that on this festive season. So, let the Christmas spirit conceives you and… Ho! Ho! Ho!
Kala Christougennaaa to all!!!
Merry Christmaaaaas to all!!!
Do remember that most of the museums are closed on 25th and 26th of December. However, do not forget to visit Acropolis/Acropolis Museum and Evzones. You will enjoy the sightseeing, since there are fewer tourists and it is not so crowded.