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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

Theological School of Halki

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)   Turkish Dailies Hürriyet (April 18) and Today’s Zaman (April 27) report on the Theological School of Halki (Istanbul, Turkey), Ecumenical Patriarchate’s theology and primary seminary, closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971.  Since 1971, there have been attempts to reopen the Halki Theological Seminary. The debate over the potential opening up of the Seminary is, while not these days at the top of the public agenda, a topic which will clearly come up often in the near future.   In fact, it most recently came up during the visit to Turkey by US President Barack Obama (April 7).

UN: Reopen Halki Seminary

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)

The United Nations’ Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has invited Turkey to reopen the Greek Orthodox Theological School on the island of Halki, after the Turkish authorities’ decision to close the Halki seminary in 1971.  The Committee has also called on Turkey to return confiscated properties and promptly to execute all related judgements by the European Court of Human Rights. Furthermore, the Committee noted its concern over the particularly serious situation of the Greek minority and calls urgently upon Turkey to redress such discrimination as well as respect human rights. The Theological School of Halki, established in 1844, was a prestigious centre of culture and civilisation. During its years of operation the school counted many internationally renowned scholars.

Carnival Celebrations in Greece

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)   Greece’s Carnival season known as “Apokries” is a period of eating, drinking, dancing and masquerading. Traditionally, it begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates on the weekend before “Clean Monday,” (Ash Monday) the first day of Lent. This year, the carnival season lasts from February 8 until March 2. The roots of Carnival celebrations and customs can be traced back to ancient Greece and are linked to the worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and festivity. In fact, Carnival is closely related to the cultural heritage of each region and every year many traditional customs are being revived in different parts of the country. The Patras Carnival is the most popular in Greece, ranking among the top carnival celebrations in the world. The Carnival of Xanthi (Thrace) and Skyros include more traditional events (Skyros – Carnival) . In Corfu and Rethymno (Crete), the celebrations have absorbed a slightly Venetian flavour from the periods that the islands were under the control of Venice. In Galaxidi, Carnival events culminate on the first Monday of Lent with a parade of floats, transformed into a battlefield, as the “warriors” merciless pelt each other with ample quantities of variously coloured flour.   Agrotravel.gr – Information Gate to Greek Rural Tourism: Carnival Events Around Greece  Athens Plus (February 13): “Fokida: Come and Join the Carnival (13.02.09, p.42) 

The Bible Enters Cyberspace

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)   Seventeen centuries after it was written, the Codex Sinaiticus, one of the world’s oldest copies of the Bible, catches up with the digital age this week. Written in the fourth century and discovered in Egypt – at the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine’s of Mount Sinai – in the 19th, it will enter cyberpsace today, July24, courtesy of the Leipzig University library in Germany. The Codex Sinaiticus Project is an international collaboration to reunite the entire manuscript in digital form and make it accessible to a global audience for the first time. Drawing on the expertise of leading scholars, conservators and curators, the Project gives everyone the opportunity to connect directly with this famous manuscript.  Codex Sinaiticus Project: www.codex-sinaiticus.net; Telegraph.co.uk: Codex Sinaiticus, the world’s oldest Bible, goes online; Secretariat General of Information: Hellenic Culture Abroad – History, Literature & Music

Exploring Greece: Mount Athos

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)    In 587 A.D., a Byzantine monk named John Moschos set off from Mount Athos in Greece, traveling around the eastern Mediterranean. William Dalrymple’s book “From the Holy Mountain” is a memorable historical journey through the twilight of Eastern Christianity, heartfelt and beautifully told. He is following in the 1,400-year-old path of Friar Moschos and a young student trekked across the Middle East, collecting precious relics and manuscripts from obscure monasteries. Dalrymple’s quest is similar; he is preserving the stories of the last generation of Orthodox Christians in the Middle East.

Greek Embassy Press Office

The Greek Embassy Press Office in Warsaw

wishes to you all a happy

 Easter holiday. We meet again

on Wednesday, April 30, 2008.