Magical Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Athens
Christmas and New Year’s Eve: the season when Attica is more beautiful and magical than ever! Stunning decorations, happy melodies and warm smiles compose the festive scene in Metropolitan Athens, which puts on its best outfit to wave goodbye to the year, with art events and hundreds of free happenings, in every corner of the city.
Greeks and foreign visitors fill up every street and neighbourhood, doing their shopping and enjoying themselves, while the sounds of Christmas carols and the wishes for “Merry Christmas” echo throughout the city. The Syntagma Square, the National Garden, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Monastiraki, the Klafthmonos square, the Omonoia square, the Propylaea and Thissio are the centres of festivities these days, while everywhere in Athens, children and adults alike enjoy the multitude of theatre, music and dance performances, exhibitions, Christmas markets and bazaars, ice scating rinks, Christmas parks and creative workshops in art centres and museums.
The centre of the city… a Christmas feast for the senses!
The signal for the spectacular Christmas illuminations is given: in an instance, the city magically transforms, the myriad of lights on the impressive Christmas tree in the centre of Syntagma Square are on and the great concert that follows fascinates the audience, immersing everyone into the ultimate Christmas spirit! Under the bright Christmas tree, on the imposing stage that has been set up, orchestras and well-known DJs play classical and jazz melodies, Christmas tunes from all over the world, Byzantine chants, ethnic and traditional dance music, setting the rhythm of Christmas throughout December. Children are thrilled with the Christmas toys, the games and activities, as well as the colourful carousel that is a standard feature in Syntagma Square every Christmas. The night of New Year’s Eve, the festive atmosphere and people’s spirits reach their peak, under the majestic fireworks displays that light up the sky of Athens.
At the same time, the highlight in Omonoia Square, the traditional decorated Christmas boat, stands illuminated and magnificent, while the National Garden has been transformed into a fairytale forest. Impressive settings, a multitude of interactive activities and games, entertainment and education, are the main elements at the most beautiful garden of Athens. Little visitors enter a magical route through the National Garden, they meet creatures and stories from the worlds of fairytales and dreams. Every year, the Technopolis – City of Athens in Gazi area hosts the greatest and most stunning Christmas park in the city, that absolutely enchants all children. Throughout Christmas and New Year, the Technopolis also features impressive concerts and parties with music by famous DJs and well-known radio producers, who electrify the young audience and create a unique atmosphere.
Countless entertainment options for everyone!
At Christmas and New Year, walking in Athens is sheer pleasure! A day out in the city’s cultural centres and museums is always a great idea in this festive time of year, since they combine extraordinary performances and events that children love, interesting exhibitions and relaxing breaks for coffee and a light lunch, as well as unique gift ideas. The Christmas and New Year store hours (from 9am until 9pm) and the decorated storefronts everywhere in Athens attract crowds of people who do their Christmas shopping, while the bazaars and street parties that take place these days in every corner of the city elevate the festive spirit. In many commercial streets of Athens, you will come across vendors with their traditional chestnut braziers and their carriages with the hot, nutritious salep kept in bronze samovars.
Special menus for Christmas and New Year’s Eve are prepared at the restaurants in Athens, with unique flavours and creative dishes. Entertainment continues with thematic cocktails and great music at the bars, with swing and jazz tunes at the live music stages, with dance and revel at the city’s night clubs.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve have unique allure and luxury at the hotels in Attica, with their festive atmosphere, the elegance, warmth and fairytale decoration. Magnificent Christmas and New Year’s Eve feasts are prepared, distinguished chefs propose fabulous menus for each day of the holidays and experienced mixologists serve creative cocktails and champagne for the advent of the new year.
Greek customs and traditions for Christmas and New Year in Attica
Christmas boat: An age old tradition that is still preserved is decorating the Christmas boat, which symbolizes the new course of life for humanity, after the birth of Christ. In the old days, sailors’ children made their own toys, which more often than not, were little boats. The boat symbolized the anticipation of children until they re-united with their relatives, but also their love for the sea.
Christmas wreath: On Christmas Eve, Athenians hang a fir wreath outside their house door, decorated with Christmas ornaments. According to tradition, the wreath brings good luck to the householders.
Christopsomo (Greek Christmas bread): The “bread of Christ” is made on Christmas Eve with great piety, it is decorated with patterns and symbols, such as the cross, and is cut and served at the Christmas table to bless the family members and their home.
Vassilopita (New Year’s cake): Christmas season has its own, special sweets, such as the “melomakarona” (Christmas honey cookies) and the “kourabiedes” (Christmas shortbread cookies), however vassilopita is the signature confection of the New Year’s Eve. A coin is placed in the dough when it is prepared, and the person who finds it in their piece when served, will have good luck in the upcoming year. The vassilopita is cut and shared in a traditional ritual the night of the New Year’s Eve. The senior member of the family crosses, cuts and serves the pieces of the vassilopita to the members of the family and guests, while the first portions are devoted to the house, to Christ, Virgin Mary and Saint Basil the Great, whose name the cake actually bears.
Kalanda (Christmas and New Year’s Carols): Carol singing is a tradition that is still preserved and widely followed, mainly by children who go from house to house, in groups of two or more, singing the carols and playing the triangles or even flutes, accordions and melodicas. First they ask “Na ta poume?”, which translates to “Shall we?” and if the answer is “yes” – which always is – then they start singing the “kalanda”, announcing the great Christian celebration ahead. When they finish the carol singing, they wish “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” and the householder offers them some money and sweets.
Podariko (first-foot): Who will be the first to enter the home of a household on New Year’s day? Will they be jovial and in good spirits? Will they bring good fortune to the home? The podariko is one of the oldest customs in Athens. The members of the household remind the first visitor to enter “with the right foot”, so that the year that just started goes well and “right”. Then they exchange wishes and sweet treats, for a sweet new year.
Pomegranate smashing: When the clock strikes twelve and the New Year has arrived, the senior member of the family turns off all lights and then steps outside their home and smashes a pomegranate on the floor. The more the seeds that scatter around, the greater the fortune and prosperity of the household in the upcoming year!