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Christmas in Greece: Experience the festive season on the Greek Islands
by Clare Evans
7 min read

Christmas in Greece: Experience the festive season on the Greek Islands

Christmas in Greece: Experience the festive season on the Greek Islands
καλά Χριστούγεννα! Get ready to bake your Christopsomo, decorate your festive boat and snack on sweet melomakarona. Christmas is coming and nowhere else in the world celebrates the festive season quite like Greece.
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καλά Χριστούγεννα!  Get ready to bake your Christopsomo, decorate your festive boat and snack on sweet melomakarona. Christmas is coming and nowhere else in the world celebrates the festive season quite like Greece.


Our guide to Greek Christmas traditions: How does Greece celebrate Christmas?

Across the world, Christmas traditions were first influenced by the region’s dominant religion, then shaped by local customs and conventions. Christmas in Greece has been strongly impacted by the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as by the nation’s diverse communities that often develop their own local traditions, having spread across many islands.

Christmas traditions in Greece

The Christmas spirit is very much present in Greece right from the start of December, with lights, festive food and holiday cheer abounding. Christmas markets and fairs spring up across the country, featuring ferris wheels, music and plenty of festive fun. The celebrations begin in earnest from 24 December, lasting for 12 days until Epiphany on 6 January.

img: Local Areas/Christmas/1000/TTT_Greece_Athens_Christmas_DEC21_7.jpg

Saints’ Days

Before the official Christmas celebrations, many Greeks observe St Nicholas Day on 6 December. In other countries, St Nicholas (who is much like Father Christmas) is associated with gift-giving, and children are given presents on this day - but this is not the case in Greece. Instead, St Nicholas is connected with the navy, with many celebrations held aboard boats.

A number of other Saints’ days fall around this time of year - both before and after St Nicholas Day - which is seen as the start of winter. Traditionally, Greek homes should have laid out their warm carpets by St Andrew’s Day on 30 November, before settling in to enjoy the feast of St Barbara on 4 December, St Savvas’s Day on 5 December and St Anne’s Day on 9 December.

Christmas decorations

Rather than Christmas trees, festive boats or karavaki, were once the traditional Greek centrepiece of the celebrations. As a maritime nation, boats are close to the hearts of many Greeks, with seafaring family members returning to shore for holiday celebrations - and not only do the vessels provide a safe passage home, they are often made to be decorative as well as functional. Some festive boats are very small, displayed on a mantlepiece or table in Greek homes. Others are much larger, like the three-masted ship erected annually in Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous Square.

Over time, Christmas trees have grown in popularity, replacing the traditional Christmas boat. Today, many families embrace both, decorating their homes with both trees and seafaring vessels.


Christmas Eve

24 December is the real beginning of Christmas in Greece. Traditions such as singing kalanda, or carols, begin on this day, with Greek children visiting homes as early as seven in the morning, armed with musical triangles and drums. The songs start by telling a Christmas story, before going on to praise the homeowner. If the children sing well, they may be given a little money and something sweet to eat, like a melomakarona (a honey-soaked cookie) or kourabie (almond shortbread covered in powdered sugar).

Christmas Eve is also the day for baking the traditional Christmas Christopsomo (which literally translates to Christ bread). Each Greek region has its own twist on this round loaf, but all incorporate a cross to honour the religious aspect of this time of year as well as almonds and other nuts to symbolise prosperity. The loaves often feature unique, personal decorations, which should symbolise the work carried out by the household - for example, depictions of fishermen for a family who make a living by fishing.

On this night, many Greeks will attend midnight mass. For religious individuals who have chosen to observe the 40-day Christmas fast, it is after this service that they may finally end this observance and enjoy some filling festive fare!

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Christmas Day

Although no gifts are given, Christmas is a special day for feasting and spending time with friends and family. In Greek homes, tables are filled with Christopsomo and other regional festive treats.

New Year’s Eve

There are many traditions to observe on this special day, including pothariko (an event in which the first-born or ‘lucky’ child of the family must enter the home first, leading with their right foot) and smashing a hanging pomegranate above the front door for luck - the more seeds that fall on the doorstep the better!

img: Local Areas/Christmas/1000/TTT_Greece_Athens_Christmas_DEC21_22.jpg

St Basil’s Day (New Year’s Day)

On 1 January, Greek children receive their Christmas gifts, brought by the kindly St Basil. Although different from St Nicholas, this jolly gift giver shares many of the same qualities. A special cake called vasilopita, which contains a coin, is eaten on this day. Whoever finds the coin in their slice is blessed with good fortune in the coming year.


6 January marks the end of Christmas in Greece. On this day many Greeks leap into cold bodies of water to retrieve a cross blessed by a priest. This tradition marks Jesus’ baptism into the Greek Orthodox Church.

Greek Christmas traditions

With so many islands and communities, there are endless unique Greek Christmas traditions celebrated across the country. On Zakynthos, for example, the Christmas Eve meal is traditionally one of boiled broccoli and kouloura (a sweet bread), in observance of the Orthodox church’s Christmas fasting period. The Zakynthian kouloura is rich in religious and historic significance. In bygone days, as the family cut into the symbolic bread, a gun would be fired as the shooter shouted για τον Ηρώδη (“for Herod!”). To discover more Zakynthian traditions year round, explore our unparalleled collection of Zakynthos villas.

For inspiring local culture across the Aegean, view our collection of luxury villas on the Greek Islands including our incredible Meganissi villas, Lefkada villas and Corfu villas. For a truly secluded escape, choose from our collection of Paxos and Antipaxos villas or find a hideaway among our Kastos villas.

If you’re looking for something a little different, why not explore villas from our newest destinations?:

Christmas food in Greece

In keeping with the country’s cuisine for the rest of the year, Christmas food in Greece revolves around making the most of the finest local, seasonal ingredients. Avgolemono (a rich, thick lemony chicken soup) is a common starter at Christmastime, with the year-round celebratory favourite spanakopita (spinach and feta pie) often appearing on festive tables. And, of course, no Christmas in Greece is complete without the traditional Christopsomo bread.

Pork and lamb are the typical holiday feast centrepieces, always roasted to perfection and occasionally done outside on a spit. Once cooked, the meat is served alongside roasted potatoes and lahanophylla yemista (cabbage rolls stuffed with pork). A popular alternative to whole roasted meat is moschari lemonato (a rich lemon beef stew in thick gravy).

Sweet treats are an essential part of Christmas food in Greece, with dozens of varieties of sugared and honey-dipped delicacies to choose from including:

  • Milopita

    - Jammy, spiced Greek apple pie

  • Karydopita

    - Syrupy walnut cake that tastes like


  • Diples

    - Fried pastries slathered with walnuts and syrup

  • Kariokes

    - Walnut-filled chocolate crescents


Discover Greece with The Thinking Traveller

Our collection of luxury Greek villas includes beautiful properties in secluded hideaways, as well as gorgeous villas at the heart of vibrant local communities. Contact our team of specialists, who will recommend a perfect destination and then take care of every little detail to make your stay spectacular, from planning boat deliveries of the finest Greek pastries to arranging an in-villa cook to create local delicacies.

Discover your Greece with The Thinking Traveller.