When visiting a country there are always many things to do: tasting the most traditional dishes, sightseeing outdoors, enjoying its nightlife, indulging in a shopping spree, going for a new, adventurous activity and (most importantly) getting to know the local life and customs. They might make you laugh, astonish you or even sound familiar, but local traditions are usually the most enriching part of a trip ―and the one you will explain over and over back home. A visit to Greece should be no exception, especially if you mix more than 2,500 years of history with one of the most special times of the year: Christmas. Celebrate the winter holidays in Greece and we’ll help you discover one of Europe’s most interesting destinations!
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Some old traditions ― freshly baked!
Traditional melomakarona and kourabiedes - credits: photo stella/Shutterstock.com
On New Year’s day, you might be surprised at the sight of people carrying a pomegranate. This piece of fruit attends the morning mass, it is usually held by the man of the family and, let me give you a clue, no-one dares to eat it. When the pomegranate gets home, the man needs to knock at the door and have it opened for them. Then it is the perfect time to throw the pomegranate at the entrance and let it smash into pieces. The more seeds, the more money the family will have during the year!
The vasilopita (or New Year’s Eve cake) is usually made of tsoureki dough, covered with sugar glaze and lightly scented with orange and vanilla. The recipe’s secret is its hidden coin; as you probably guessed, whoever finds it will be lucky for the coming year. The story behind this custom is equally clever. Saint Nicholas was the beloved ruler of a Hellenic city in Asia Minor. In an attempt to calm the enemy down and help their king, the people of the city gave Saint Nicholas all their treasures. Once the issue was resolved, the Saint fairly gave the treasures back by hiding them in pieces of bread and leaving one at every home.
If you enjoy food (and especially sweets) you’re warmly invited to join our Christmas Athens Food Tour. Taste the mouthwatering melomakarona (moist honey cookies) and other Christmassy treats and drinks while walking through festive Athens. Our expert guide will take you and your family to the most recommended themed cafés and local food shops. For those who want to repeat culinary experiences at home, you can come to one of our Greek cooking classes and learn from our chef!
Christmas decorations by the seaside
City of Nafplio - credits: encrier/Depositphotos.com
Just a couple of hours away from Athens across the Isthmus of Corinth, the romantic city of Nafplio awaits you. Nafplio was actually the first capital of the First Hellenic Republic and its architecture is deeply influenced by the Venetian and the Ottoman empires.
It is said that the first Greek Christmas tree was located in the Ottoman palace of Nafplio, and it had to wait until 1833 to be decorated. Before that time, Greeks would decorate sailing ships ―ships had always been their means by which to trade both goods and ideas. Some people say sailing ships would be decorated in order to welcome the sailors that came back home at Christmas. Nowadays, you can see small ships decorating the streets, tiny lighted ones at people’s houses or school children drawing them for Christmas.
Although there are decorated ships in Athens too, Nafplio is worth a day out of the current Greek capital. Choosing our Nafplio Cycling Tour means that our professional Nafplio guide will pick you up from your hotel and will cycle you through this breathtaking seaside historical city. Explore the Italian idyllic alleys, the place where Kapodistrias was assassinated in 1831, the Acropolis of Nafplio and even the Bourtzi (an all-purpose castle built on a tiny island). By the end of the day, you’ll be back in Athens ready to enjoy its nightlife. You can even join our Greek folk dance lesson and dinner!
A present for every member of the family
Ermou Street - credits: Nataliia Sokolovska/Shutterstock.com
There are two things happening every Christmas, no matter where you are in Greece: spending time with the family and unwrapping presents!
Before letting the small ones get excited, note that Greek children do not open their gifts on Christmas, but they need to wait for Saint Nicholas to bring them on New Year’s Day. In the meanwhile, the grown-ups can happily shop around in The Mall Athens or the River West Shopping Center. For those keen on themed cafes and science-fiction films, visit Egaleo and charge batteries with some original sweets at Panormou street before shopping (you should expect some queues). If you are traveling with kids, head to Neratziotissa on the metro (green line) and let them skate and play at Snow Land facilities. Remember you can make some quick and last-minute Christmas shopping right at the city centre: just stroll down Ermou street!
Greece is widely known for the hospitality of her people, and her parties. It is no surprise then that friends meet up even more often and their strong family bonds get tighter during Christmas. If you were never the traditional type and got bored sitting around the Christmas table, you can still enjoy a warm family reunion while exploring the world! Visit Athens and we’ll provide you with the most dynamic experiences for families or groups, such as our Athens Family Treasure Hunt (where you need to follow our clues around the city in a mysterious game) or Play-and-learn in the Ancient Agora (where your kids will discover Greek mythology and play the role of an ancient Athenian, judge, and painter).
No matter what you’ve been longing to do during the Christmas holidays, or what kind of traveler you are, Athens has the perfect gift for every explorer: restaurants, shops, adventure, culture…your next experience is waiting under Syntagma’s Christmas tree!