Christmas in Greece
Α feast for the senses
Celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Greece means entering a magical world that we can enjoy with all of our senses! Visions of great beauty; delicious flavours; intoxicating scents; and joyful melodies cause a flurry of emotions which bring back happy memories from our childhood years. Feel the Christmas spirit and…who knows? Maybe you’ll come across some kind of elf hiding behind the Christmas tree - if you are lucky enough! Feel the magic!
The Christmas tale coming alive / numerous white and coloured Christmas lights giving the appearance of starlit skies over cities, towns, and villages / the happy and welcoming faces of their inhabitants/ decorated Christmas trees and traditional Christmas boats bringing back memories of childhood Christmases to locals and visitors alike / white picturesque villages and snow-covered mountain tops with busy ski centres/ cheerful fires blazing in traditional hotel fireplaces / fireworks lighting up the night sky on New Year’s Eve/ the custom of Momogeroi, still followed in the areas of Macedonia and Thrace / Athens and Thessaloniki welcoming the Christmas season in high spirits, with the streets and squares wearing colourful Christmas lighting and a variety of events, festivals and concerts.
The custom: In Florina, the local celebrations for Christmas and New Year’s Day include the lighting of bonfires at midnight, in the same way as shepherds did to warm up the newborn baby Jesus.
The savoury and sweet traditional dishes prepared for Christmas and New Year’s Day in Greece / the delicious turkey stuffed with chestnuts and raisins laid on the festive table/ sweet Christmas temptations like traditional melomakarona (honeyed cookies with walnuts), sweet-smelling kourabiedes (christmas butter cookies dusted with caster sugar) and delicious diples (sweet fried honey rolls dusted with cinnamon and ground walnuts) / fragrant stuffed tsourekia (a traditional sweet bread) prepared in confectioneries, mostly in Athens and Thessaloniki / the delicious chicken soup served steaming hot - popular in Crete and other parts of the country / the custom of gourounochara / St. Basil's Pie (Vasilopita) prepared for New Year’s Day / other traditional local Christmas delicacies served across the country.
The custom: Christopsomo (meaning Christ’s bread), customarily prepared in Crete and other areas is a special sweet bread with a cross-shaped decoration and a walnut (the symbol of fertility) at its centre, served on Christmas Day across Greece. It usually contains cinnamon, honey, nutmeg and/or raisins, with slight variations. Tasting it is a …must!
The festive aromas in the atmosphere/ the warm scent of cinnamon, honey, nuts and sugar- the basic ingredients for the majority of Christmas sweets/ smoking chimneys and wood burning fireplaces in beautiful mountain villages, such as Megalo Papigo in the area of Ioannina/ the scent coming off the moist soil and the dewy evergreen shrubs and trees on forested Mt. Pelion in Magnesia/the smell of incense burning in churches in every city, town, or village / the sweet aroma of chestnuts roasting on an open fire/ delicious smells coming from the kitchens of cute little tavernas in Plaka or Psirri, Athens.
The custom: On Kefalonia island, in the Ionian Sea, locals keep a “fragrant” custom called kolonies (meaning colognes); this is a special ritual for New Year’s Eve when people sprinkle each other with cologne and perfume.
The Christmas melodies filling the air in every street of the city/ children singing carols while holding metal triangles that resonate as they strike them rhythmically with a small metal rod on Christmas Eve and on New Year’s Eve/ church bells inviting people to attend the Christmas mass / open-air concerts taking place in Syntagma square and all around Athens/ street musicians performing in the city centre/ Christmas parties held in clubs and bars all over Greece.
The custom: On Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in the morning, children knock on peoples’ doors and sing Christmas carols. According to tradition, opening your door to children singing carols will bring you good luck and prosperity!
Touch / Sense
Visit the impressive fir forest in Pertouli, Trikala, and touch real fir trees instead of their man-made Christmas counterparts / sprigs of Christmas mistletoe set with a red ribbon in vases, or adorning the front doors of houses / the beautiful Christmas ornaments in shops and malls in Athens/ the festive nightlife atmosphere in Arachova, on the south slope of Mt. Parnassus / the special vibes of the ancient oracle at Delphi, just 8 Km away from Arachova / the happy atmosphere you share with family & loved ones / touching the hand of a loved one at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The custom: On New Year's Day, just after the morning mass, Greeks throw a pomegranate on the doorstep before entering their houses, for good luck; the fruit’s bright red arils get scattered on the floor, and they are believed to bring prosperity, happiness and good fortune to all the family.