A stunning video of Athens sparkling with Christmas lights was released over the weekend by Up Stories showing the Greek capital in all its glory.
Every night during the festive season, Athens changes outfits. While daylight in town usually brings a dose of culture, art, and archeological sites, after sunset the atmosphere is very different.
Leading up to Christmas in Athens
Tourists and locals are out and about everywhere enjoying the sparkle of Christmas lights above the city streets. While Athens might not be a winter holiday destination the way snowy northern European cities are, there are lovely traditions to witness and tasty seasonal foods to tempt you.
The Christmas season in Athens kicks off on December 6 for the feast day of St. Nicholas, and continues until Epiphany on January 6. So there’s a whole month of festivities to enjoy.
Traditionally, New Year is when Agios Vasilis (St. Basil), the Greek version of Santa Claus, brings gifts. He bears little resemblance to the western version of Santa though: he’s tall, slender, and has a dark bushy beard and is known for his generosity and kindness to the less privileged.
These days, most kids get to tear open their presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, but some also get a gift on January 1, St. Basil’s day, to keep the tradition alive.
In the lead-up to Christmas, Athenians are in the grip of a shopping frenzy. It’s not just about filling Santa’s stocking. Two of the year’s biggest name days—Christina and Vasilis—also fall during the festive period (name days are a bigger deal than birthdays in Greece).
By the first week of December, Christmas trees will have appeared on every Athenian square (the main one is lit ceremoniously on Syntagma Square).
But it wasn’t so long ago that the more traditional karavaki (small boat) was the centrepiece, adorned with lights and ornaments. The custom began on the Greek islands, where sailors were often away from home for long periods of time. To celebrate the men’s safe return, locals decorated boats and placed them on the floor next to the fireplace, with bows pointed inwards to symbolize the journey home. Some neighborhoods, usually those closer to the seaside, still observe this tradition.
Then there’s the caroling. Traditionally, groups of children ring their neighbours’ doorbells from the early morning hours on December 24, 31 and January 6. Accompanied by a musical triangle, they sing the kalanta (Christmas jingles) and usually earn a fair amount of pocket money from their generous neighbors in return.
These days, you’re likely to run into little carollers all over the city’s shops, restaurants and cafes, asking: “Na ta poume?” (Shall we sing for you?).