If you find yourself in Athens around Christmas and wonder about the many English-speaking American “tourists” of Greek appearance, chances are they are not visitors, but have, like this writer, moved to the increasingly cosmopolitan capital of Athens. Greece – there are a lot of them, and they keep coming.
One of the first and most interesting and delightful experiences of these Greek American expats is to compare and contrast Christmas in the United States and “Patrida”.
Of course, as is the case in many contexts of the Hellenic homeland, Western mores and practices now permeate society, including festivals. As you walk down the famous Ermou Street that connects Syntagma and Monastiraki Squares, don’t stay too long looking at the glitzy storefronts adorned with Christmas decorations that reflect the shopping districts of Austria, London, New York and Los Angeles – you could be knocked down. by the Greeks in the midst of their holiday shopping frenzy.
HELLENIC HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
As in the United States, just as Greek-Americans are planning or recovering from their Thanksgiving celebrations – Monastiraki’s Hard Rock Café has a wonderful turkey dinner…and pumpkin pie too – the Christmas trees are beginning to appear in all Athenian squares. The Syntagma one is the most impressive, but it is rivaled by the magnificent scene of trees and the Nativity – there are many in Athens too – in the courtyard of the magnificent municipal theater of Piraeus. Not so long ago, however, the season was not proclaimed by the trees but by the traditional “karavaki” (boat). This custom illustrates the curious mix of West and East in Greece at Christmas because if the boats are dedicated to Saint Nicholas and are decorated with “Christmas lights”, in Greece he is not Santa Claus . The former is the patron saint of sailors and the tradition began in the Greek islands, where communities prayed to him for the safe return of their men after sea voyages. Families would decorate boats and place them on the ground alongside of the chimney. During the Christmas period – on the occasion of the feast of the beloved saint, December 6, boats with lights and decorations appeared on the squares. Nicholas is not the saint who brings gifts at Christmas. In the Orthodox Church, the hero of Children’s Day is Saint Basil – and the gifts arrive on his feast day, January 1st.
However, the tradition of singing Christmas carols, known as “kalanta” in the East, is common to Eastern and Western Europe. Groups of children ring their neighbors’ doorbells on the mornings of December 24, 31 and January 6. The little musicians are accompanied by a musical triangle and earn pocket money from their generous neighbors. At the doors of houses and in the streets, children ask adults “Na ta poume?” (Shall we sing for you?)
On New Year’s Day, one of the centuries-old traditions is to crush pomegranates in front of doors across the country. The resulting bright red seeds signify the amount of happiness and abundance for the family in the coming year – the more seeds, the better.
But the New Year’s tradition par excellence is “vasilopita”, the cake of Saint Basil. Each contains a coin. The slices are distributed to family members, and whoever finds the coin in their room will be lucky all year round.
On New Year’s Eve, fireworks explode above the Acropolis, enjoyed by citizens here and abroad. Many locals listen to bouzoukia bands in restaurants and bars while others welcome the new year (and say good riddance to old people) by playing cards until sunrise.
CHRISTMAS FOODS AND CANDY
There is something of a national divide when it comes to Christmas treats. There are two camps: those who love “melomakarona” – syrupy, oil-based biscuits flavored with honey, walnuts, cloves, cinnamon and orange – and those who love “kourambiedes”. “. The latter are a different experience: crumbly, buttery cookies often including chopped almonds and always covered in powdered sugar.
Family dinner on Christmas Day usually involves cooking as many different foods as possible, with the family meal stretching from lunch to dinner – but many families get together on Christmas Eve instead. The meat featured is usually pork, but turkey also makes an appearance, perhaps inspired by time spent in the United States. Most restaurants in Athens are open during the holidays and offer special Christmas menus.
The Greeks are one of those nations for whom the “12 days of Christmas” still have meaning. The end of the holiday season is marked by “Theophany” (Epiphany) on January 6. As Greek-Americans know, the highlight of this holiday is the “blessing of the waters”: a clergyman throws a cross into the sea and then bystanders in swimsuits dive into the cold waters to fish out the cross. The winner is blessed by the priest and can expect good luck in the coming year.
WHY NOT MAKE YOUR NEXT VISIT TO GREECE DURING CHRISTMAS
Plane tickets, hotels and Airbnbs are cheaper and the temperature is still warm in December, often reaching 70 degrees F. The Greek government’s long-standing efforts to encourage year-round tourism are paying off. fruit, but largely thanks to the buzz generated by excellent bars and restaurants created by Athenian entrepreneurs. They offer great food, a fun atmosphere and great music in every genre from rebetiko and rock to Greek pop and jazz – and the museums and archaeological sites can be enjoyed without sacrificing beach time in summer.
In addition to sampling – literally and figuratively – Greek Christmas traditions, Americans visiting for Christmas will feel right at home during the holiday, as many of Athens’ public squares, halls and parks are transformed into winter wonderland: there are Christmas markets, carnivals, ice rinks and magnificent Christmas lights. Some of the most beautiful areas are the Psyrri neighborhoods – head to the Little Kook cafe for holiday displays that may be kitschy but will at least put a smile on your little ones’ faces.
Korai and Monastiraki Squares are decorated for the season, but Christmas Central is Athens’ main Syntagma Square, located opposite the Parliament. This year it features a 19 meter high tree decorated with lights and ornaments, surrounded by wonderful light displays including a giant teddy bear, a Christmas train and hot air balloons.
Music is also abundant, sometimes encouraging dancing. There will be 15 live concerts this year at Syntagma presented by local artists, bands and bands.
Syntagma, however, does not have a monopoly on Christmas magic. The Christmas Factory at Technopolis City in Athens hosts a range of festivities for people of all ages, making it the most popular family holiday destination. The “Factory” offers eight different festive workshops with Santa Claus and his elves, a theatrical performance of “Elafontaine – Aesop in another way”, a Christmas market with festive decorations, gifts, treats and drinks parties, an ice rink, a dance floor, the group of elves, and more!
And then there is the Kingdom of Santa Claus, northeast of the Center, on the Attiki Odos highway towards the airport. Visitors will find a special amusement and theme park, open only during the holidays – a carnival with a roller coaster and a Christmas train, life-size figurines of festive characters from films and fairy tales, stage plays Christmas festival for children and the largest indoor ice rink. in Athens with snow slides.
One of the nicest places in New Athens during the holidays – indeed, it attracts grateful Athenians all year round – is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). Each year they create “Christmas World” and the fir-lined canal and dancing fountains take on a holiday spirit, with cultural performances and a variety of festive activities and music concerts every Sunday until Christmas at the lighthouse. The renovated ice rink is also a big attraction.
The official Christmas attractions are decentralized in the national capital, with large shopping centers decorated as is usual in Ameriki and Christmas villages set up in 10 neighborhoods to delight young and old with a wide range of attractions – crafts , treats, face. painting, stilt walkers, jugglers, Christmas mascots, entertainers, puppeteers, magicians, etc.
What has become a much-loved tradition on Christmas Eve is “Wishing Night,” when people of all ages light up Kotzia Square with traditional biodegradable lanterns that will rise to the sky with their wishes. A van from ATHINA 9.84 radio will provide “atmospheric” musical accompaniment to the event.
Food and music dominate the senses at Christmas, and the fantastic Megaron – Athens Concert Hall always presents great musical fare. This year, the Johann Strauss Ensemble offers “Viennese Waltzes at Christmas in Athens”, the famous organist Ourania Gassiou will once again delight with a festive recital on the excellent and beautiful Megaron instrument, “Karagiozis Christmas at the Bottom of the Sea” , a new production by shadow puppeteer Elias Karellas of the Athens State Orchestra will perform one Christmas. concert, and the famous crossover singer Mario Frangoulis borrowed the title of this article (or vice versa) for his concert: “Christmas in Athens”.
Read more on thenationalherald.com
RELATED TOPICS: Greece, Greek tourism news, Tourism in Greece, The Greek Islands, Hotels in Greece, Travel to Greece, Greek destinations, Greek travel market, Greek tourism statistics, Greek Tourism Report
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons License: CC-BY-SA Copyright:: Spyrosdrakopoulos