Christmas in Athens

Tuesday, Dec 27 2016

I was in Greece for the Holidays and thought I would share some highlights.

Christmas and New Years in Athens are very different than what we experience here in New England where decorated trees, lots of shopping, and cold snowy landscapes prevail. In fact, a traditional Greek Christmas did not include decorating a tree until the mid -1800’s. The tradition in Greece was to decorate a boat, and that custom is returning slowly but surely. Boats are decorated in honor of Saint Nicholas, who is the patron saint of sailors. This tradition stems from the Greeks being a seafaring culture and hoping for a safe return from their travels.  The boats are decorated on December 6, the feast day of Saint Nicholas, and taken down on January 6, the Epiphany.

Decorated boat in the foyer of the Benaki Museum in Athens

Christmas in Athens is very social and very active. Friends and family open their homes for parties and dinners and there are many choices for celebrations outside of the home as well: restaurants, music venues, clubs and theatres all abound with offerings. On Christmas and New Year's Eve, children go form door to door, singing traditional Greek carols in exchange for coins.

Christmas Eve is a “reveillon”  where everyone stays up until midnight to welcome Christmas Day and celebrations abound with revelers going home early in the morning.  Food and drink play a big part of the festivities in true Greek fashion and as one friend likes to say, “we eat until we are comatose.”

This is  photo of a dear and talented young friend of mine, Georgia Poutos, singing in the FAUST Club on December 27th.

The weather is usually mild compared to more northern climes and walking around the city is pleasant in contrast to the summer months when walking in Athens can become unbearable. As I was wandering in Kolonaki, I stopped at one of my favorite churches, Aghios Dionysis, on Skoufa Street, which has spectacular iconography and mosaics.  

A mosaic in an apse at the entrance to the church of the Archangel Gabriel.

I am very partial to Byzantine churches and the mysticism that they provoke. There is a transcendental light that filters through openings, and the two dimensional representations of Byzantine iconography which are painted on every surface create an environment which transports you to another realm.

New Year's Eve is again a time for revelry. Parties abound and often people play cards to affirm their luck in the New Year. On New Year's Day, families and friends cut the Vassilopita or St. Basil's Cake, which is made with a coin hidden in the batter. When slicing the cake each family member is assigned a piece. Whoever gets the coin has good luck for the coming year.

The season rounds up on January 6, which is the celebration of the Epiphany. A cross is tossed in the ocean and swimmers dive to retrieve it in the cold waters.

If any of this has inspired you to go to Greece for the Holidays, I assure you, you will enjoy. And if you need some Byzantine magic in your space, visit LAMOU's "Off the Wall"  collection and try our "Forever Zoe" table!!



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