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Greece Celebrates the Most Family-Oriented Christmas in Recent Memory

Credit: Athens Municipality

Due to coronavirus restrictions, Greeks are celebrating the holidays in the most traditional way in decades, foregoing outings at the bar or parties with friends — activities which are now banned — to spend time with their families on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

The pandemic has brought the importance of family into focus for many, as distance from loved ones, illness, and more time spent at home have all caused the world to reflect on the things that truly matter to them.

For Greeks, family has always been one of the most, if not the most, important of all cultural values — families in Greece are tightly bonded together, with many generations often living under the same roof, or if not, visiting each other as much as possible.

Anti-virus measures, including lockdowns and travel restrictions, have forced Greeks to get creative in finding ways to spend time and maintain their firm bonds with their loved ones who live far away, such as video calls.

Families who are together over the holidays this year will have to forego big holiday parties and celebrations out on the town, once common occurrences in the times before Covid-19, and look to the ways Greeks traditionally celebrated Christmas.

While Greece will still be under a strict lockdown for the holidays, with a 10 PM to 5 AM curfew in effect, Greek citizens will be able to celebrate together in groups of nine people from two families on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

In order to partake in the festivities, Greeks hoping to share their holiday with family or friends should send an SMS with the number 6 to the government’s toll-free 13033 hotline number.

These restrictions were put in place in the hopes of curbing a potential outbreak of the virus among families and friends due to large holiday celebrations.

Rather than banning any form of holiday celebration at all, which would have made the festive season particularly dark and upsetting for many, the state has limited the likelihood of large outbreaks by effecting reasonable anti-virus measures.

Although the iconic Greek tradition of caroling, when children go door-to-door singing Christmas carols, may be banned this year due to the pandemic, Greeks will still sing along in their homes to the traditional tunes that mark Christmas.

Baking traditional Greek sweets for Christmas and the New Year is another great way of enjoying the holidays as a family, while reaping the benefits with delicious treats. On Christmas Eve, families traditionally bake a wide array of aromatic holiday sweets, most notably melomakarona and kourabiedes.

Kourabiedes are a kind of shortbread cookie, perfectly sweet and satisfying, filled with almonds and topped with powdered sugar. Melomakarona are softer than kourabiedes, and have a different, although still festive, flavor profile. Made with olive oil, flour, honey, and citrus, melomakarona are much healthier than most holiday treats.

Along with these Greek Christmas staples, families are known to make the intricate Christopsomo, or “Christ’s bread,”  which has been an indispensable part of the Christmas Day table in every Greek household throughout the centuries.

The bread is traditionally baked on Christmas Eve and served on Christmas Day at the table when the whole family gathers to eat together. It is believed that this sweet bread brings blessings to the family during this holy season.

Spending this holiday season together, singing carols, baking cookies, and playing board games, Greek families are going back to tradition.

Although it may seem like this family-oriented Christmas was born out of force due to the virus restrictions, many people have been drawn to simple holiday celebrations at home this year after understanding how very quickly the world can change, and how much their families mean to them.

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