Have you ever considered experiencing Christmas in Greece? In this guide, we cover a traditional Greek Christmas to hopefully inspire you to plan a trip to do exactly that!
Christmas is undoubtedly one of the most festive times of year for many Christians celebrating this festive holiday throughout the world.
Whilst Europe is known for its wintery cheer, colourful markets, Christmas traditions, and indulgent foods, many travellers flock to countries like Germany, Spain, Austria, or even Portugal to enjoy Christmas and completely skip Greece!
Although Greece has become almost synonymous with whitewashed, sun-soaked villages and glorious beaches that light up with the shimmer of the Aegean sea, most travellers discount visiting Greece over the winter months.
Well, in this Christmas in Greece post, we’re hoping to convince you to reconsider and enjoy the colourful and festive holidays and Greek traditions for Christmas!
- When is Greek Christmas?
- Christmas Traditions in Greece
- Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread)
- Festive Meals
- Traditional Greek Christmas Treats
- Singing Greek Christmas Carols
- Vasilopita (Saint Basil’s Cake)
- The Day of Epiphany (The Blessing of Water)
- Decorated Christmas Boats (Karavaki) – Greece Christmas Traditions
- Greek Santa Claus
- Warding Off Kallikantzaroi
- Pomegranate Smashing
- Best Places to Spend Christmas in Greece
Before you go, be sure to plan & book your Greece Travel Essentials:
- Search & Book flights here on Skyscanner
- Book your car rental through AutoEurope
- For Ferry tickets, book here on FerryHopper
- Search hotels here on Booking.com, or on VRBO for apartment-style stays
- Click here to browse & book bus and train tickets
- Lastly, don’t forget about travel insurance for your trip!
Pssst…Before you jet off to idyllic Greece, be sure you have all your essentials packed by reading our European packing guide.
When is Greek Christmas?
Christmas celebrations in Greece officially last for 14 days, starting on Christmas eve and ending on January 6th, the day of Epiphany (the Great Blessing of Water).
The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Greek Christmas (Christougena) on December 25th, following the Gregorian calendar. However, as soon as December arrives, the lights come out, and the festivities begin: with the delicious aroma of sweet treats in the air, small boats are illuminated, and the sound of children singing kalanda.
Christmas Traditions in Greece
Honey cookies, Ornamented boats, and roasted delights are all staples of a Greek Orthodox Christmas. Let’s take a deeper look into some popular Greek Christmas traditions throughout Greece and the Greek Islands.
Christopsomo (Christ’s Bread)
Christopsomo, also known as Christ’s bread, is made to celebrate Christ’s birth since Byzantine times. It’s typically a round loaf (serving as a symbol of eternity) that is a staple on the Greek Christmas table. Though decoration differs in each region and is adapted to represent the household’s life and work, every Christopsomo consists of a dough cross in the centre and is sprinkled with nuts on top. The bread is mildly sweet, yet rich, and infused with spices.
Christomopsomo is traditionally made on the night of Christmas Eve and is served on Christmas Day. It’s symbolic meaning to bring a productive year for the family.
The main dish on a Greek Christmas table consists of pork. It’s a custom that many Greek families still preserve today. During the slaughter of the animal, families often carry out this tradition and end it by painting a cross with the pig’s blood on children’s heads to protect them.
Other common meals include cabbage leaves rolled and filled with pork. Stuffed turkey, raki with honey, or mulled wine has also become a popular menu item served in the household.
If you’re keen on sampling and learning more about some of Greece’s most valued wines, take a look at this Greek wine tasting tour.
Traditional Greek Christmas Treats
Another Christmas tradition in Greece is indulging in delectable Greek sweets and treats. Melomakarona (honey cookies), diples (pastry with honey), and kourabiedes (sugar-coated butter cookies) are some of the most famous Greek traditional Christmas desserts.
These delights are made with locally sourced ingredients, including oil, honey, nuts, and oranges.
Singing Greek Christmas Carols
On the morning of Christmas Eve, doorbells in houses begin to ring as early as 7 am. Groups of children stand at doorsteps waiting to sing traditional Greek Christmas carols (kalanda), with metal triangles and sometimes drums.
Greek Christmas carols begin, from the narration of Christ’s birth to expressions of praise and worship. At the end of the songs, the children are given a small amount of money by the residents of each house. In addition, the lady of the house customarily offers the kids sweet treats, such as traditional melomakarona or kourabiedes.
Vasilopita (Saint Basil’s Cake)
Vasilopita, associated with Saint Basil’s Day (January 1st) is a traditional Greek cake or bread served on New Year’s Day to celebrate Saint Basil. It contains a hidden coin or trinket, which provides good luck to the receiver. The head of the family cuts the cake, and whoever finds the coin is said to have a lucky year.
The tradition started from the myth that residents of Cappadocia had to collect jewels and money to give the area’s tyrannical ruler tax. Saint Basil managed to exempt local people from having to give their valuables away.
Uncertain of how to return the possessions to the rightful owners, he baked the valuables into loaves of bread and distributed them to the citizens. Miraculously, each person received their exact shares back.
The Day of Epiphany (The Blessing of Water)
On January 6th, Epiphany, also referred to as Theophany or Ta Fota, is a feast day commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ at the Jordan River by Saint John the Baptist. The same way they do on Christmas Eve, children go door to door singing the kalanda.
For Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christians, priests carry out a water blessing by throwing a cross into a body of water (rivers, lakes, seas), and groups of men dive into the water to retrieve it. It’s believed that the one to find the cross first will be blessed for the year.
Decorated Christmas Boats (Karavaki) – Greece Christmas Traditions
Being a maritime nation, it’s more common for Greek households to decorate a small (Christmas) boat, “Karavaki” as part of the holiday traditions in Greece. Illuminating their vessels symbolised love and respect for the sea, as well as the anticipation for reuniting their families and loved ones with seafaring relatives.
The tradition of decorating Christmas trees was only first introduced to Greece in 1833 by Bavarian King Otto, who decorated the tree in his palace in Nafplio. After the next few decades, Christmas trees were only seen in upper-class households and, over time, became more common.
Today, the embellishing of boats is still performed throughout the Greek islands.
Greek Santa Claus
Greece’s version of Santa Claus is known as Agios Vassilios (Saint Basil), who is associated with gift-giving from an old man with a red cape and a white beard. However, the Greek Santa Claus does not deliver gifts on Christmas Eve but rather on New Year’s Day.
Agios Vasilis was the bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia and was one of the most influential hierarchies of early Christianity.
Warding Off Kallikantzaroi
Agios Vassilis isn’t the only visitor who pays the Greeks a visit during the holiday festivities. Kallikantzaroi is a magical beast that can vary in appearance from elves to pixies and is believed to spread terror to the world.
To protect themselves and ward off Kallikantzaroi, families keep their fireplaces burning between December 25th and January 6th. From the day of Epiphany, when the priests purify the waters, these Kallikantzaroi scream with terror and return to where they come from.
Pomegranates have been the symbol of good fortune, fertility, and youth in Greek traditions. Many goddesses used this beautiful red fruit as their symbols, such as Venus, the goddess of beauty, and Hera, the goddess of marriage.
During Christmas time in Greece, you’ll see many pomegranates hanging above the entrance of doorways to their house. And before the clock strikes midnight, on Old Years Eve, the household turns off all lights and gathers outside their front door, and breaks pomegranates by smacking them hard against the floor.
It is believed the amount of seeds that scatter on the ground is proportional to the measure of success the family will receive in the new year.
Best Places to Spend Christmas in Greece
When we think of Greece, we think of balmy weather, dazzling shores, and famous Greek landmarks. However, during Christmas time, there is a whole new range of festivities that goes on.
Take a look at some fun things to do in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Mykonos.
Christmas in Athens
Athens is a popular destination, steeped in history and archaeology, and celebrating Christmas is no different. During this time of year, areas are adorned with traditional Greek Christmas decorations along the streets. And, Christmas lights in Athens are in no short supply.
In Syntagma Square, you’ll find stalls filled with unique souvenirs, arts and crafts. In Kotzia Square and the National Gardens, there are many Christmas-themed events, perfect for the whole family. The Christmas Factory, located in Technopolis, Gazi, is by far the crowning jewel of festivity in Athens. Here you’ll find everything from live shows, food stalls, carousels, gifts, and more.
While you’re in Athens, don’t miss this incredible food tour to sample the best of Greece’s cuisine.
Christmas in Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is another Greek Christmas wonderland, boasting several areas to indulge in the festive spirit.
Aristotelous Square is a popular place to hang out. It’s decorated with a massive Christmas tree and draped in lighting. There’s also an official lighting ceremony and music on the day. Apart from the square, there is also a Christmas market and a fun train if you would like to enjoy a quick ride.
Christmas in Mykonos
When we think of Mykonos, our thoughts right away conjure images of dazzling white sands, blue waters, hot weather, and sunset cruises.
However, one should not forget the festivities during the Christmas period on the island. Apart from gorgeous views, twinkling lights, and carols during the season, you can join a communal feast in the Agios Stefanos Church on the 27th of December. And if you’re in Mykonos over Christmas, don’t miss the midnight mass on Christmas Eve.