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Christmas in Athens:
Top Things to Do and Know

How to spend a magical Christmas in Athens

Date
03 December 2019

The festive season has already begun in Athens! Christmas trees and lights are being decorated in public squares and alleys, you can hear Christmas songs played by street performers, the little ones are looking forward to getting their gifts and everyone is enjoying the magical holiday atmosphere! Here are the top things you should know about Christmas in Athens, the best things you can do and of course the best things you should eat!

Image after introtext
Academy of Athens - Credits: Giorgos S. Pantelakis

1. The Christmas boat

People in Greece, especially in the islands, used to decorate a boat for Christmas, long before the Christmas tree became the norm. This was due to the relationship of Greeks with the sea. The Christmas tree is a foreign custom which was brought to Greece by Otto, the first Kind of the country, who was of Bavarian origin. Over the years, the Christmas tree became the first choice for decoration for most Greeks, but you can still find houses and shops with a Christmas boat decoration; if you wander enough in the streets of Athens, look inside little shops and traditional places and you will surely find one!

Christmas boat

2. The pomegranate tradition

The pomegranate has its ancient roots in Greek mythology and especially in the establishment of the Eleusinian Mysteries. It has been a symbol of fertility and good fortune since the ancient times. According to the tradition, you have to throw a pomegranate hard enough to break it at the first try and… you have to break it outside the front door of your house on New Year’s Day, to disperse all the good fortune in it and bring happiness, good health and abundance to the whole family.

3. St Basil’s cake

Another tradition in Greece is to cut the St Basil’s cake in New Year’s Day. This cake is dedicated to Saint Basil, the Santa Claus in Greek tradition, who brings the gifts the first night of the new year. Most families cut it right after the changing of the year or after lunch on the 1st of January. Traditionally, a coin is put inside the cake before it is baked. When it is time to cut it, everyone comes around the table and the householder starts assigning pieces to everyone. The first piece, traditionally, is for the Christ, the second for the Virgin Mary, the third for the house and the rest are for the members of the house by order of age. The person whose piece has the coin inside is considered lucky for the rest of the year! 

St Basil's cake

4. Have fun with the whole family

The largest Christmas village in the city comes every year in a specially designed space in Technopolis of Athens, in the area of Gazi. Young and old visit Santa Claus's headquarters, write their own letter, which can either be mailed via ELTA (post office) or delivered directly to the Elves, and of course play for free at the brand-new Sweet, Joy and Toy Factory. Also, everyone can participate in interactive workshops, escape rooms and countless events. And in case you get hungry, you can go through the Christmas Festival food market and try Christmas delicacies! 

Christmas Factory

Another option for fun with the whole family is the Christmas world of Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). Bright installations, a skating rink on the Canal, tall fir trees in the Market and ornate trees compose a unique Christmas setting that you can visit for free! Take a walk by the artificial canal and try your luck with ice-skating; stroll through the interactive installations in the park, play and have fun. The park also hosts numerous workshops and games on Christmas and New Year!

Tip: if you wish to visit the SNFCC for ice-skating, make sure to register online in advance via their website.

Ice skating in SNFCC

5. Watch a Christmas movie at the Οpen Air Christmas Cinema

What is more fun that watching a Christmas movie with your loved ones? Although you are in vacations, you can still enjoy your beloved experience and add that something little extra – ancient glory! Athens Open Air Film Festival participates in the festive program of the Municipality of Athens "Christmas in Athens" and invites you to a magnificent three-day (27.12 – 29.12) "open air" screening, overlooking… the lightened Acropolis! Classic movies for the whole family and a multitude of surprises will guide you to the romantic world of “Edward Scissorhands”, the fairytale universe of the “Nightmare before Christmas" and the crazy adventures of Roger Rabit and his great friends. All screenings will be free of admission and will take place at Thiseio Pedestrian Avenue, at the intersection of Ermou & Asomatos Streets, starting at 6.30 p.m.! Get your pop corn from the street vendros and enjoy! 

The Nightmare before Christmas 

6. Turning on the Christmas lights

On Tuesday, December 10th, the Mayor of Athens will turn on the Christmas lights at the natural tree that will decorate Syntagma Square this year. The event will be presented by famous Greek artists that will sing with the accompaniment of the Athens Big Band. A drum team will give their own show and a 3D projection mapping will transform the facade of the Greek Parliament: bright colors, vibrant scenery and striking architectural changes will uniquely decorate the historic building and complement your imagery with many more concerts to follow from famous Greek singers and Dj sets!

7. Watch the audiovisual show in Kotzia Square

On December 24th, the sky will brighten at Kotzia Square with hundreds of traditional lanterns from the Night of Wishes. A spectacular audiovisual show by Athens Digital Arts Festival will follow, against the backdrop of the Athens City Hall. Be there and make sure to make your Christmas wish!

Night projection in Athens City Hall

8. Try the traditional Christmas delicacies 

When you see Melomakarona in pastry shops or bakeries, you know that Christmas is here. This beloved traditional dessert is produced only during this season, so make sure to try them! They are made with flour, sugar, orange, pure olive oil, walnuts, herbs (cinnamon, cloves) and of course good quality honey. In many parts of Greece, Melomakarona are regarded as a sweet treat that brings good luck for the New Year.

Melomakarona

If you try a Kourambie and want to hide it… well, let’s just say that it is impossible! This traditional Greek sweet -snowy- dessert is the embodiment of the festive season. They are made with almond and other nuts and dusted with icing sugar. This icing sugar is the one responsible for betraying you after you eat one. Melomakarona or Kourampie? Well, we cannot possibly choose, so we eat both! Try them and let us know which one you like the most. 

Kourampiedes

9. Get warm at the most Christmassy cafés and bars of the city

With a purely Christmas name, Noel is one of the must-see destinations for this time of year. It has been decorating its walls with festive notes since late November! There, the city’s hustle pause and the festive climate thrills with unique Christmas-inspired dishes and many different theme nights. It is pure magic! For those of you who are drawn to the colorful lights and the golden dust, another destination is the street of Mantzarou, and in particular the neoclassical building at number 3 (Mantzarou 3). At first, you will be enthralled by the smell of hot wine and then pleasantly surprised by the delicious tastes. There, you will find everything you need to enjoy a chilly December afternoon: fire in the fireplace, warmth and tranquility, away from the downtown fever; still though, only a breath away from Syntagma square!

Noel

If you happen to wander the streets of Psyri, you will surely be drawn to the alley with the dozens of lamps leading to a magical corner. As you cross the threshold of Little Kook café, you will be transported to another world: the world as you saw it when you were little. You will meet old forgotten friends of your favorite fairy tales and you will surely be tempted to taste delicious drinks and sweets! Let the Christmas spirit in… Ho Ho Ho

Little Kook

10. Enjoy the Greek Christmas Carols

Carols for us Greeks is the sweetest Christmas memory of our childhood. We all remember the preparations we would make for the carols to come... From what we would wear to what instrument would accompany our song. Most of us made sure to get a good and loud "triangle", but those who chose melodic or harmonica were not missing out. After choosing the outfit, the instrument and, of course, the company, we would hurry off to the streets early in the morning, go door-to-door and ask “Shall we?” After the Christmas song, the smiley householder would give us the coveted coin to add to our collection inside the pocket money. We just hoped to be the first in that house, otherwise we might hear the nightmaring phrase “They have already told us the carols”.

 

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