The best time to visit Greece in winter is Christmas. Christmas trees, shiny ornaments and bright lights decorate the streets and joyful melodious bells and children’s carols echo through the cities and villages. The season’s festivities and customs are centered around friends, family and food and are filled with joy. Wherever you go, people are welcoming, open and friendly and greet you with “Chronia Polla” (many years) or “Kala Christougenna” (Merry Christmas). Now add a dash of Greek hospitality to your Christmas holidays and you’ve got all the ingredients for the most unforgettable winter vacation ever! Because nothing says Christmas like Greek hospitality!
Early Morning Christmas Carols
Traditionally, on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, children eagerly go from house to house for the early-morning Christmas carols and receiving money, sweets or gifts in return. They first ask the house owner “Na ta poume?” (Shall we sing?) and once they’re done, they rush off for their next treat. The carols are sometimes accompanied by the triangle or harmonica.
Christmas Day in Greece
After Easter, Christmas is the second most important religious holiday in Greece. On Christmas day in Greece, families and friends come together over the decorated table and enjoy a wonderful traditional Christmas meal. Greeks love good food and the holiday season is just the excuse to enjoy a host of tasty dishes. These are usually roast lamb, pork or turkey accompanied by a spread of dips, salads and homemade pies.
Traditionally, Greeks don’t exchange presents on Christmas Day. They do so on New Year’s Day, which is also Saint Vasilis’ Day, known as Father Christmas.
Along with the spectacularly decorated Christmas trees, you will also see boats decorated everywhere in Greece, especially on the Greek islands. In the past, it was custom to decorate a boat instead of the Christmas tree. The reason for this custom is that Saint Nikolas, celebrated on the 6th December, is considered the patron Saint of fishermen and sailors.
Traditional Greek Christmas Sweets
The smell of clove and cinnamon fills the air as bakeries and housewives make the traditional Greek Christmas sweets, such as “melomakarona” and “kourabiedes”. In the past, melomakarona were served at Christmas and kourampiedes exclusively on the New Year. Have a piece of Saint Basil's Pie (Vassilópita) and find out if you are going to be the lucky one! This special cake is eaten on New Year’s Day in which a lucky coin, “flouri”, is placed inside it. If you find the lucky coin in your piece of cake, you will have good luck all year.
The Malevolent Hobgoblins
Beware of the hobgoblins! In Greece, hobgoblins are called “kallikántzari”, friendly but mischievous little creatures that look like elves. They surface the Earth only during the 12-day period from Christmas to January 6. According to Greek legend, these creatures live in the center of the earth, where their mission is to chop at a huge tree trunk symbolizing the earth's foundations. While on Earth, they enter people's houses by sliding down the chimney. They are extremely naughty and do things to frighten people, like overturning furniture, devouring Christmas food and sweets, or contaminating the water. Many rituals are performed to keep these hobgoblins away.
Christmas Cultural Events
Most municipalities organize Christmas cultural events such as musical concerts, theatre performances, street shows and exhibitions. Hotels organize parties on Christmas Day with live music and traditional Greek dancing. In recent years extravagant firework displays have been established in the central squares of the cities.
Boasting its own Christmas traditions and combining them with the legendary hospitality of its people, Greece is an ideal alternative for a great Christmas holiday. Whether you are hoping to enjoy a festive take in the city of Athens, a quiet Christmas around the Peloponnese or on a Greek island for an utterly different experience, Greece is guaranteed to charm you with its Christmas traditions and celebrations. So, add some spice to your Christmas holidays and see for yourself why nothing says Christmas like Greek hospitality!