When you think of Greece, you probably picture endless summer days, ancient history, and stunning beaches. However, Greece can be equally amazing during the Christmas holidays. Visitors will find plenty of things to do when spending Christmas in Greece. There’s everything from singing Greek Christmas carols to eating traditional Christmas treats and decorating a small boat and/or Christmas tree. Why not join in the Christmas celebrations that take place around the country?
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Common Questions About Christmas in Greece
Is Christmas a big deal in Greece?
Of course it is! The main celebrations in Greece take place from December 6th through January 6th (the Day of Epiphany). No matter when you visit in December, you’ll certainly feel the Christmas spirit wherever you go. Cities and towns come alive with Christmas lights and decorations as well as festive food and events meant to spread Christmas cheer.
Throughout the country and the Greek islands, you’ll be able to find Christmas markets and fairs galore. There are also interesting traditions meant to celebrate the season in a way you never have before.
What are some of the Christmas traditions in Greece?
As I mentioned, the Christmas period in Greece runs from early December through New Year’s day and ends on January 6th. Agios Nikolaos Day (Saint Nicolas Day) starts off the holiday season on December 6th.
The Greek Orthodox church celebrates the St. Nicolas, the patron saint of sailors and the sea. This is not the Western version of Santa Claus. The holiday is a time of celebration in all of the churches in Greece. It is a feast day and name day for those named Nikos, Nikola, Nick, and other derivatives of the name.
Other major Greek Christmas traditions begin on Christmas Eve. Young children will go door to door singing Kalanda (Greek Christmas carols). Many Greeks attend a Midnight Mass service and spend the day with family members. In a typical Greek family, presents are not opened on December 25th, but on New Year’s Day.
Yes, you read that right, the Greeks major celebration is on January 1st, St. Basil’s Day. The holiday is named after Saint Basil (also known as Agios Vasilis, Greek Santa, and Basil the Great). Families come together to share vasilopita, a sweet cake with a lucky coin hidden inside. The family member who finds it will have good luck for the rest of the coming year.
The holiday season concludes on January 6, the day of the Epiphany, commemorating the Baptism of Christ. A Greek Orthodox priest does a “blessing of the waters” to start the celebration. Next, he throws a cross into the sea and men and boys dive in to retrieve it. The person who finds the cross is considered blessed by the priest for the remainder of the year.
7 Fun Things to Experience During Christmas in Greece
As you can see, Greece in Christmas might be a bit different than what you would find in other destinations, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. If you’re considering heading to Greece this holiday season, here are 7 wonderful things you can do in Greece to celebrate Christmas like a local!
Athens might not be the epitome of a European white Christmas destination or the first city to come to mind when planning a winter vacation, but it is full of Christmas revelry and there are a ton of things to do in the center of Athens during the Christmas season.
One of the most appealing reasons to visit Athens in winter is the fact you can enjoy the city without the crowds. It is a great opportunity to see the ancient ruins and museums without the heat and seas of people.
Come December 6th the whole city fills with Christmas spirit and seasonal activities. Visit the huge Christmas tree at Syntagma Square, go ice skating under the Acropolis and Parthenon (yes, you read that right!), and listen to children singing kalandas or Christmas carols just as you would in many other corners of the world.
The highlight of visiting Athens during the holiday season is the Christmas Factory. This is one of the best Christmas Parks in Europe where you can go shopping for traditional crafts at the wooden market stalls, ride a gorgeous carousel, hop on a giant Christmas Ferris wheel, or tour the area on Santa’s train.
Ski in Arachova
If you’re looking to spend Christmas in Greece but also want a white Christmas, Arachova is the perfect spot for you.
Backdropped by snow-capped Mount Parnassus, this charming town’s cobblestoned streets are beautifully decorated during the holidays. As you explore, you’re sure to find log fires and traditional taverns serving red wine and all kinds of seasonal Greek fare.
In Arachova, you can ski in the morning at Parnassos Ski Center. Afterward, return to town for some après ski fun and rest before hitting the slopes again. If you happen to visit on Christmas Day, head over to the St. George’s Byzantine church for a truly local experience!
See the Karavakis (Christmas Boats)
Karavakis are festive boats, and decorating them is one of the most beautiful Greek traditions on Christmas.
For centuries, people in Greece have participated in the decoration of the Christmas boat on December 6th, the day of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors (yes, it is a different St. Nicholas!) to welcome the holiday season.
The sea has played such an important part in the lives of the Greeks, and many families have (or had) a family member who is (or was) a sailor. Families lovingly decorated small wooden boats to welcome sailors home for Christmas, and that is how the Greek tradition began. You can see them on many beaches and town squares, including Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki, and Syntagma Square in Athens.
Over the years, Greeks have also adopted the Christmas tree as holiday decor, but they still remember their roots. Don’t be surprised if you spot karavakis sitting next to a Christmas tree!
Christmas is a time for indulging in sweet desserts all over the world, and the Greeks are no different. Greeks love eating Melomakaronas at this time of the year.
Melomakaronas are soft, oval-shaped cookies made from flour, orange, cinnamon, and clove. They are drenched in honey syrup, and covered with walnuts.
Many Greek families still follow the tradition of baking their own Melomakaronas as a way to welcome December, but you can find them just about everywhere. You can try some at bakeries, local markets, coffee shops, and Christmas food stalls.
Visit Volos for a Blue Christmas
Located 205 miles from Athens, the seaside city of Volos is a popular year-round Greek destination. It’s also a great option for spending Christmas time in Greece.
Locals in Volos go out of their way to decorate their streets with festive lights for the occasion. Their Christmas decorations are blue, so you will have the chance to see something a bit out of the ordinary.
Volos is the birthplace of Tsipouro, a strong Greek spirit served in more than 600 tsipouradika (taverns) in town and a must-try during your visit.
As for things to do in Volos during the holidays, there is plenty to see and do. Check out the live nativity scene at the Church of Agios Nikolaos with real animals. Then, grab some roasted chestnuts at the stand at Ermou Street before heading to the Argo, Volos’s legendary ship. The Argo is taken out of the water and displayed in front of the University of Thessaly in December.
Another special event takes place on December 26th, when thousands of lanterns are released into the sky. It creates a spectacular scene over the ocean. Best of all, you are welcome to buy one and participate in this wonderful seaside spectacle!
Visit an Elves’ Mill in Trikala
About 4 hours from Athens, you’ll find the scenic town of Trikala. This is home to Mylos ton Ksotikon – a wonderful elves’ mill that opens its gates every year for the holidays! Rumor has it that Santa and his helpers work here year round to produce treats and gifts. Of course they want to escape the North Pole temperatures!
Mylos ton Ksotikon provides a great experience for the whole family, with fun fair rides, a skating rink, pretty festive decorations, and a huge array of activities and treats to indulge in and spread the holiday spirit all over town.
Join in the Santa Run in Chania
If you want to experience traditional Christmas fun on the island of Crete, you can join the annual Santa Run in Chania. This is a super quirky tradition that only takes place here!
Thousands of people dress up in Santa Claus costumes and run through the historic city’s downtown streets to raise funds for charity. You don’t have to be a runner to take part. Official times are not recorded and there are no medals given to the winners. The point of this race is to have fun and help those in need.
The merry race draws a lot of attention from locals and tourists alike. Store owners offer refreshments to the runners while musicians and dancers put on shows to cheer them on. Afterward, you can go Christmas and souvenir shopping, and then try out one of the many dining options in the area.
Greece is an amazing destination year round. Now that you know what to expect during the holiday season it’s time to book a trip!