Christmas in Greece

Traditionally, the Christmas holiday period in Greece lasts 12 days, until January 6, which marks the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany).
There are many customs associated with the Christmas holidays, some of which are relatively recent, “imported” from other parts of the world (like eating turkey on Christmas day and decorating the Christmas tree).
The modern Christmas tree entered Greece in the luggage of the country’s first king, Otto of Greece, who ascended to the throne in 1833 – yet, the tree did not become popular until the 1940s.
In the past, Greeks decorated small Christmas boats in honour of St. Nicholas. Today, they are increasingly choosing to decorate boats, instead of trees, reviving this age-old Christmas tradition. Undoubtedly, celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Greece is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Xmas: A Word of Greek Origin
Where did “Xmas” come from? Some transliterations of Greek spell Christos as “Xristos.” The “X” stood in for the first letter of the word Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ).
“Xmas” has been used for hundreds of years in religious writing, where the X represents the Greek letter X (chi). While in modern times Xmas is regarded as a kind of slang, it was originally considered to be a perfectly respectful.
Christmas (“Χριστούγεννα”), the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most joyful days of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Christmas Elves
Greece’s hobgoblins are called “kallikántzari,” friendly but troublesome little creatures which look like elves. Kallikantzari live deep down inside the earth and come to surface only during the 12-day period from Christmas until Epiphany. While on the earth’s surface, they love to hide in houses, slipping down chimneys and frightening people in various ways.
Throughout Greece, there are customs and numerous rituals performed to keep these hobgoblins away. In Epirus, residents place twelve spindles in front of the fireplace to prevent the kalikantzari from climbing down the chimney.
On Christmas Eve, in the town of Grevena, people place a large log in the corner of the house and set it alight. As the fire burns, lasting until the Feast of the Epiphany, it protects the family from the naughty kalikantzari. On the island of Cephalonia, women burn incense at the front door of their houses making the sign of the cross in order to repel these undesirable “guests.”
The “kallikántzari” disappear on the day of Epiphany when all the waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.
Sweets & Treats
Traditional culinary delights symbolise good luck in the New Year and adorn the white-clothed tables. “Melomakarona” (honey cookies) and “kourabiedes” (sugar cookies with almonds) are the most characteristic. In the past, melomakarona were made exclusively for Christmas, while kourabiedes were prepared for the New Year.
Today, this distinction is not observed anymore and both melomakarona and kourabiedes are prepared and consumed throughout the festive season.
Another traditional custom that dates back to the Byzantine times is the slicing of the Vassilopita (St.Basil’s pie or New Year Cake). The person who finds the hidden coin in his/her slice of the cake, is considered to be lucky for the rest of the year.
At the meal table there is also a special decorated round loaf called “Vasilopsomo” or St. Basil’s bread -which is really identical in form to the “Christopsomo” or “Christ bread” eaten on Christmas Day – and the “Photitsa” or “Lights’ bread” that is eaten on Epiphany.
“Kalanda” or Carols
The singing of Christmas carols (or kalanda, in Greek) is a custom which is preserved in its entirety to this day. On Christmas and New Year Eve, children go from house to house in groups of two or more singing the carols, accompanied usually by the sounds of the musical instrument “triangle,” but also guitars, accordions, lyres and harmonicas.
Until some time ago, carollers were rewarded with pastries but nowadays they are usually given money. Listen to some sound extracts with Greek Christmas carols (Kalanda) from Ikaria Island. Things to Do, Places to Go…. 
A Christmas spirit is taking over the squares and streets of the country’s major cities, as local authorities organise a variety of events and festivities, culminating with New Year’s Eve countdown parties in central squares.
Festivities in Athens revolve around Syntagma Square and its Christmas tree, with daily concerts throughout the season, while the National Garden turns into storybook Magical Forest for children.
Thessaloniki runs the country’s biggest Christmas village: the Helexpo pavilions are hosting Christmas Magic City, featuring shows, workshops and a big Christmas market.
The north-western city of Kastoria celebrates with “ragoutsaria,” the local carnival that starts on New Year’s Day, with every neighbourhood forming a carnival group, complete with brass band. In Agios Nikolaos, Crete, the New Year will come from the sea, with the New Year’s Eve party at the port, and Santa arriving on a boat.
And Holiday Performances
Venues and clubs participate in the Christmas spirit with special holiday performances.
The National Opera’s Christmas rich programme includes the Snow Queen ballet and Hansel and Gretel opera for children.
The Athens Concert Hall hosts the Bolshoi Theatre Academy on December 22-29, in a much-awaited performance of the Nutcracker, and the London Community Gospel Choir on December 27-28.
The recently inaugurated Onassis Cultural Centre presents Jean-Baptiste Thiérrée and Victoria Chaplin in their phantasmagoric yet poetic Invisible Circus, on December 28-30 and January 1-2.
At the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation, on December 27 & 28, the Sounds of Christmas Go Baroque: a festive concert featuring Baroque Concertos.
(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)

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El Greco`s masterpiece in Thessaloniki

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) “The Coronation of the Virgin,” one of the masterpieces painted by Doménicos Theotokópoulos, widely known as El Greco, is currently exhibited at the Teloglion Foundation of Art in Thessaloniki. 
The oil painting on canvas (57 x 79.3 cm), dates back to 1603-1605, the creative period of the artist. El Greco painted this masterpiece for the chapel of the Hospital de la Caridad near Todelo.
The painting was acquired by the Alexandros S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation in 2008 and is temporarily housed in the National Gallery until the completion of the “Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens.”
“The Coronation of the Virgin” will be on display at Teloglion Foundation until May, 2010.

El Greco Paintings on display in New York

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) The Onassis Cultural Centre in New York presents an extraordinary group of 15th and 16th century paintings, including early works by El Greco.
Under the title “The Origins of El Greco” the exhibition features 46 exceptional works from public and private collections in Greece, Europe, the United States and Canada, many of which have travelled to the U.S. for the first time.
Tracing the cross-currents of Byzantine and Renaissance influences in the workshops of 15th and 16th century Crete the show is the first to focus on the evolution of the multifaceted relationship of Cretan painters with Western art during this rich period.
The exhibition will run until February 27, 2010 and will be officially inaugurated on December 8, by Culture and Tourism Minister Pavlos Geroulanos and the Archbishop of Crete, Irineos.

New Onassis Prize: Environment Protection

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)    The President of the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation Antonis Papadimitriou and Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust announced in the German city’s Town Hall on Thursday (28.5) the establishment of a new International Onassis Prize which would bear the name “Aristotle Onassis Prize for the Protection of the Environment.”   The Prize will be awarded every two years for “outstanding contributions towards protecting and improving the environment, including the long-term economical use of energy.”  The first award will be handed out in autumn 2010 in Hamburg and will be accompanied by a cash prize amounting to €250,000.

Onassis Prize in Finance

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) The recipient of the Onassis Prize in Finance is Professor Eugene Fama from Chicago University’s Graduate School of Business. Professor Fama was honoured for his lifetime contribution to finance academia. In his speech delivered for the occasion at a ceremony held at the Guildhall in the City of London on April 27, Fama referred to the global economic crisis stressing that it has not yet ended and that it is advisable for markets to be left free to adjust, away from government interventionism. The Onassis Prize, sponsored by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, is awarded biennially and recognises a lifetime contribution by a leading academic in each of the areas of shipping, trade and finance.  The winner receives prize money of $250,000. Addressing the ceremony which attracted some 700 distinguished guests from across the world, President of the Board of Directors, Anthony S. Papadimitriou stated his enthusiasm for the international recognition for a valuable institution such as the Onassis International Prizes.

Athens to Host Global Forum on Migration, 2009

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)   Next year, Athens will host the 3rd Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD), and the Alexander Onassis Public Benefit Foundation will undertake the organisation of the event – which will take place in November 2009. The GFMD is a voluntary, cross-border initiative launched by the UN secretary general’s office and aims to display the potential and challenges of international migration. The two-day forum is expected to be attended by 200 participants and representatives of non-governmental organisations from around the globe.  Hellenic Migration Policy Institute: www.imepo.gr