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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)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits Poland

His All Holiness, Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch started a visit to Poland on Monday.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at Maria Magdalene Church in Warsaw

While in Poland Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will visit Warsaw, Lublin and the Holy Mountain of Grabarka to attend the Transfiguration feast celebrations in the sanctuary, PAP was told by spokesperson for the Polish Orthodox Church father Henryk Paprocki.
The Transfiguration is the biggest Orthodox feast in Poland. Pilgrimages to Grabarka, the main Orthodox cult site in Poland, date back to 1710.
On Tuesday Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will meet with Sejm Speaker Grzegorz Schetyna.
On Friday he will receive an honorary doctorate of the John Paul II Catholic Lublin University during a ceremony in Lublin.
There are from 550 to 600 thousand Orthodox faithful in Poland, mainly in the Podlasie northeastern region.
(PAP) 

Patriarcha Konstantynopola Bartłomiej I z wizytą w Polsce

Na zaproszenie polskiej cerkwi prawosławnej w poniedziałek po południu przyjeżdża ekumeniczny patriarcha Konstantynopola Bartłomiej I.

Jak poinformował PAP rzecznik polskiej cerkwi ks. Henryk Paprocki, patriarcha Bartłomiej odwiedzi: Warszawę, Lublin i Świętą Górę Grabarkę koło Siemiatycz, gdzie weźmie udział w prawosławnych obchodach uroczystości Przemienienia Pańskiego i 300. rocznicy pierwszego cudu w tym miejscu.
W pierwszym dniu wizyty patriarcha weźmie udział w nabożeństwie w prawosławnej Cerkwi Marii Magdaleny na warszawskiej Pradze, a we wtorek ma się spotkać z marszałkiem Sejmu Grzegorzem Schetyną. Continue reading

Greece in mourning

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) Political leaders expressed their shock and grief on Wednesday in the wake of a bank torching in central Athens that left three bank employees dead.

News of the abhorrent attack found Parliament in session to debate the latest round of government-announced austerity measures – the reason unions were holding protests outside the House.

» President of the Hellenic Republic

Referring to the current financial situation and the frustration many people are feeling with the political system, President Karolos Papoulias stated the following:
“Our country has reached the edge of the abyss. It is everybody’s responsibility that we do not take the fatal step. Responsibility is proven through action, not in words. History will judge us all.”

» Prime Minister

Prime Minister George Papandreou rebuked a murderous attack, while promising that “the perpetrators will be located and will stand trial.” Moreover, the premier called on all Parliament-represented parties to unequivocally condemn the violence.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are a free and democratic country. We fight, and have fought, for the right to live in a democratic Greece. And each citizen has a right to demonstrate.
But no one has the right to resort to violence, especially violence leading to the murder of fellow citizens. And we know that violence breeds violence. Protest is different from murder.”

» Opposition Leaders

Main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Antonis Samaras stressed that the country is going through “critical moments,” while expressing his grief for the innocent victims of fanaticism, and random violence.
The leaders of the remaining opposition parties – the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Aleka Papariga, Radical Left Coalition (SYRIZA) parliamentary group Chief Alexis Tsipras and Popular Orthodox Rally (LA.OS) leader George Karatzaferis – each condemned the violence and expressed their condolences to the victims’ families.

The Patriarch on “60 minutes”

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was featured on the CBS news programme “60 Minutes,” on December 20. Patriarch Bartholomew was invited to give his account on the history of the Christian Orthodox Church, and its development in modern times.

The Patriarch spoke of the restrictions posed by the Turkish authorities to himself and the functions of the Patriarchate, and objected to being – himself and the Greek minority – “treated as second class Turkish citizens.”

Commenting on the Patriarch’s statements, Turkey’s Foreign Minister labelled the comments as “extremely unfortunate.”
Following the remark, the Greek Foreign Ministry issued an announcement according to which “the Patriarch is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians who constitute the second largest Christian Church in the world.
It is a leader recognised for his wisdom and modesty, but also for his steadfast support over Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Whenever the disappointment of a leader of such calibre is illustrated with such clarity it is everyone’s duty, let alone of those responsible for the Patriarchate and the Greek minority in Turkey, to take heed.”

Διάλεξη για την βενετοκρατούμενη Κρήτη στο Πανεπιστήμιο Βαρσοβίας (8/12/2009)

A post-byzantine icon from the collection of the Hellenic Institute of Venice

Διάλεξη με θέμα «Η βενετική περίοδος της ελληνικής ιστορίας – Η βενετοκρατούμενη Κρήτη» έδωσε η Γραμματέας Επικοινωνίας του Γραφείου Τύπου και Επικοινωνίας Βαρσοβίας, Μαρία Μονδέλου, στις 8 Δεκεμβρίου στο Πανεπιστήμιο Βαρσοβίας.
Η διάλεξη πραγματοποιήθηκε ύστερα από πρόσκληση του Ινστιτούτου Διεπιστημονικών Σπουδών (Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies) “Artes Liberales” του Πανεπιστημίου της Βαρσοβίας, με πρωτοβουλία της καθηγήτριας Malgorzata Borowska, διευθύντριας του Τμήματος Νεοελληνικής Φιλολογίας.
Την διάλεξη παρακολούθησαν οι φοιτητές του Β΄ έτους της Νεοελληνικής Φιλολογίας, στο πλαίσιο του μαθήματος «Κρητικά αριστουργήματα της περιόδου της Αναγέννησης».
Παρουσιάστηκαν αρχικά, τα σημαντικότερα ορόσημα της βενετικής ιστορίας και των μακραίωνων ελληνο-βενετικών σχέσεων, με έμφαση στις σχέσεις Βενετίας και Βυζαντίου.
Έγινε αναφορά, σε όψεις της ιστορίας της Βενετοκρατίας στον ελληνικό χώρο και στα χαρακτηριστικά της βενετικής κυριαρχίας, και επισημάνθηκαν ορισμένα από τα συμπεράσματα των σύγχρονων ερευνών, οι οποίες αποδεικνύουν την ύπαρξη ενός κοινού ελληνο-βενετικού πολιτισμού, καρπού της δυτικής και της βυζαντινής παράδοσης. Αναλύθηκαν τα κύρια γνωρίσματα της ιστορίας των βενετοκρατούμενων περιοχών, με έμφαση στις σημαντικότερες βενετικές κτήσεις, όπως η Κωνσταντινούπολη και η Κρήτη. 
Στη βενετοκρατούμενη Κρήτη ήταν αφιερωμένο το δεύτερο μέρος της ομιλίας. Τονίστηκε η σπουδαιότητα της βενετικής αυτής κτήσης και αναλύθηκαν ορισμένοι από τους θεσμούς που εισήγαγε η Βενετία στο νησί, καθώς και τα χαρακτηριστικά των τεσσάρων μεγαλύτερων πόλεων του νησιού κατά την διάρκεια της βενετοκρατίας (Χάνδακας, Χανιά, Ρέθυμνο, Σητεία). Ιδιαίτερη αναφορά έγινε στη λεγόμενη «Κρητική Αναγέννηση» και σε επιτεύγματα του βενετο-κρητικού πολιτισμού της ύστερης περιόδου (ενδεικτικά παραδείγματα  από την λογοτεχνία, την ποίηση, την ζωγραφική).
Τέλος, έγινε αναφορά στο έργο του Ελληνικού Ινστιτούτου Βυζαντινών και Μεταβυζαντινών Βενετίας, του οποίου η ομιλήτρια διετέλεσε υπότροφος- ερευνήτρια.
Επισημάνθηκαν η προσφορά του Ινστιτούτου ως του μοναδικού ερευνητικού ιδρύματος της Ελλάδας στο εξωτερικό και η δράση του σε ποικίλους τομείς (επιστημονική έρευνα, εκδόσεις, διοργάνωση συνεδρίων, βιβλιοθήκη, αρχείο χειρογράφων και παλαιών εγγράφων, μουσείο μεταβυζαντινών εικόνων κ.ά.). Παράλληλα, παρουσιάστηκε συνοπτικά η ιστορία της Ελληνικής Κοινότητας Βενετίας, η οποία υπήρξε η σημαντικότερη ελληνική κοινότητα του εξωτερικού. 

 
 
 
 
 

The Hellenic Institute of Venice and the Church of St. George

Lecture “The Venetian Dominion in Greece – Venetian Crete” (University of Warsaw, 8/12)

A lecture about “The Venetian period of Greek history – Crete under venetian rule” was hold by the Press Attache of the Press and Communication Office in Warsaw, Maria Mondelou, on the 8th December at the University of Warsaw.
The lecturer was invited by the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies “Artes Liberales” of the University of Warsaw and the director at the Department of Modern Greek Philology, Malgorzata Borowska.
A chronology of Venetian history and of the Greek-Venetian relations was initially presented. Main aspects of the Venetian dominion in Greece were described and the results of contemporary researches, that verify the existence of a common Greek-Venetian culture, product of the Latin and the Byzantine traditions, were highlighted. The most important characteristics regarding the history of regions under Venetian rule, such as Constantinople and Crete, were also presented.
The second part of the lecture was dedicated to the Venetian Crete, a most important Venetian territory. The institutions that Venice introduced in the island and the characteristics of the greater towns (Candia, Canea, Rethymnon, Sitia) during the Venetian dominion were, also, analysed. Particular attention was preserved for the so-called “Cretan Rennaissance” and the aspects of the Venetian-Cretan culture (literature, poetry, painting).
Finally, the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies of Venice and its activities were presented by the lecturer, who has been a researcher of the Institute. It was highlighted  the great importance of this foundation, as the only scientific institution of Greece abroad and several types of its activities (scientific research, editions, organization of conferences, library, archive of manuscripts and old documents, post-byzantaine icons etc.) were described.

It was, also, briefly presented the history of the Greek-Orthodox Confraternity of Venice, which for centuries has been the most important Greek Community abroad. 

Orthodoxy and Innovation

(GREEK NEWS AGENCY)   Orthodoxy and Innovation in the Greek-speaking world from Byzantium to the 21st century, June 5-7 2009, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The symposium touches upon a theme which has been seldom researched within European cultural, social and religious studies. The symposium will attempt to understand how the Orthodox Church and theology have been, through innovation, a contributory cause of change in society and culture in different historic periods. University of Copenhagen: Studying Modern Greek; European Society of Modern Greek Studies: Upcoming Conferences