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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Local Elections Run-off

Following the second round of local elections yesterday, the ruling PASOK party won the majority of regional governorships (8 to 5).
In municipal elections and -despite a high abstention rate- there was a change of leadership in the three major cities.
In Athens, Giorgos Kaminis, the former Ombudsman, won the mayorship, with the support of Pasok, after defeating the incumbent New Democracy (ND) mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis.
In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, the independent Yiannis Boutaris, supported by Pasok, defeated ND-backed candidate Costas Gioulekas, while in Pireus, Vassilis Michaloliakos, supported by ND defeated Pasok candidate Yiannis Michas.
Commenting on the results, Prime Minister George Papandreou said that the citizens “rejected the sirens of destabilisation and gave the government a clear three years of work to enable it to continue the effort for the country’s salvation and recovery.”
The premier also called on all political parties to “assume responsibility” and work together with the aim of saving the country. Main opposition New Democracy (ND) party leader Antonis Samaras said that “the second round confirmed the political conclusions of the first Sunday” and gave the opportunity to his party to emerge “renewed, strong and responsible.”
For more information: Ministry of Interior, Decentralization and E-Government: Regional & Municipal Elections 2010 Results (in Greek); Kathimerini Daily: Pasok gets regional upper hand; YouTube: PM’s nationwide televised press statement (in Greek)
(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)

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.

Greece at the EU Negotiations

» ‘Lisbon’ & ‘Copenhagen’ in EU Spotlight

Prime Minister George Greek Prime Minister Papandreou (first from the left) participates in the two-day meeting

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA) The meeting of heads of state and government in the European Council began yesterday and concludes today (October 29-30). Prime Minister George Papandreou (first from the left) participates in the two-day meeting, the agenda of which is dominated by deliberations on climate change ahead of the Copenhagen meeting, and the European Union’s institutional future under the new Treaty of Lisbon.

» Breaking the Ice

Yesterday, on the sidelines of the EU Council, Papandreou held a 20-minute informal meeting with Nikola Gruevski, the Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.Papandreou reiterated his personal initiative to promote the Western Balkan states’ accession to the European Union by 2014, stressing that a mutually accepted name erga omnes is a prerequisite for Greece in the case of FYROM.

» Socialist Call for Green Growth

Addressing a meeting of the EU Socialist Prime Ministers -Party of European Socialists (PES)- ahead of the European Council Meeting, Papandreou spoke of the need for EU Socialist Parties to push through changes that would put the citizen first and secure that the Copenhagen meeting’s resolution consolidates green growth.

European Parliament Elections 2009

» JUNE 4-7: EUROPEANS VOTE
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(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)  In Greece, the European Parliament elections will take place on June 7.  In the member-states of the EU, where Greek citizens reside permanently or happen to be during the election period, the election will take place on June 6.  The Greek diplomatic authorities in those member-states must provide information regarding the precise election day, Greek citizens’ voting rights, as well as the electoral procedure to be followed. For the EU Election, the Greek Territory constitutes a united electoral region (22 seats).  In the other member-states, the elections will take place from June 4 to 7. The elections will be carried out with general, direct, secret voting, as stipulated.

» WHY VOTE
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By voting in the European elections, the citizens choose who influences the future and the daily life of close to 500 million fellow Europeans.  The citizens’ participation in the decision-making process, at both local and European level, is set as a permanent and constant priority by the European Union.   Fully adopting the principles of equality and not discrimination, the Greek Ministry of Interior invites all EU citizens residing in Greece to exercise their right of vote.  European Parliament: Why Vote 

 
» DISTRIBUTION OF SEATS
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The members of the European Parliament are elected under a pure proportional electoral system.Voting results from all over the country are processed and published by the Supreme Election Committee of the Ministry of Interior.  This Committee sets the final electoral vote chart and distributes the seats of the European Parliament to all the political groups, after incorporating the vote of Greek citizens residing in other EU member states into the general voting results achieved in the Greek State.

» THE RIGHT TO CANDIDACY
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Greek citizens who have reached the age of 25 on the day of the election and have the ability to vote have the right to be elected to the European Parliament.  Every person who falls under the provisions of the article 56 § 1 and 4 of the Greek Constitution or is a member of the Greek Parliament is barred from the right to be nominated for candidacy.
  
» ELECTORAL BODY
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According to the Ministry of Interior, 9,866,913 Greek citizens reside in Greece and have the right to vote on the June 7, while 110,562 young people will vote for the first time.  The Greek citizens who reside in other EU member states and have the right to vote on the June 6 total 36,758, according to the number of petitions filed at the Greek Consulates. The number of European citizens who reside in Greece and will vote in June amounts to 6,530.  For further information click here.

 
» ELECTION CAMPAIGN
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The election campaign begins at least 30 days before the election date.  Political parties represented in the Greek Parliament or in the European Parliament and parties which obtained more than 1.5% of the national vote in the last parliamentary elections receive funding. Media access: All parties represented in the Greek Parliament or the European Parliament have proportional access to state-owned media. During the election campaign, opinion polls will be conducted and published until June 5. After that date, no transmission of political advertising messages and broadcasted pre-election dialogue is allowed.

» FACILITATING CITIZENS & THE MEDIA _________________________________________

As of May 15, the Ministry of Interior has launched an advertising campaign to be completed one day before the elections date i.e. June 6, 2009.   The campaign’s slogan is “Vote in Euroelections. Defy indifference.” According to the Minister of the Interior, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the main objective of this slogan is to inform citizens and encourage them to participate in the voting procedure.   Information on where to cast ballots can be easily acquired by calling the 4-digit number 1500, or visiting the ministry’s website at www.ypes.gr, or the public administration’s national portal: www.ermis.gov.gr/portal/page/portal/ermis/    A special television spot for Greek citizens and Hellenic media abroad, as well as the diaspora, is now posted on the websites of Greece’s communication & Press Offices in the rest of EU member states.   Furthermore, the Secretariat General of Information-Communication will set up a special EU Elections Press Centre at Zappeion Hall, in order to facilitate journalists and media covering the event. 
 
 
» EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS 2004 _____________________________________________
 

Previous European Parliament elections took place on June 13, 2004.  For more information about 2004 Euro-elections’ results, visit the website of Interior Ministry or the website of the European Parliament or the website of the Press and Communication Office in Paris http://www.amb-grece.fr/grece/europeennes.htm .

» PARTIES PARTICIPATING
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 1. New Democracy   2. Panhellinic Socialist Movement     3. Greek Communist party   4. Coalition of the Radical left   5. Popular Orthodox Rally    6. Party of the Liberals   7. Fighting Socialist Party of Greece  8. Dimosthenis Vergis- Greek Ecologists   9. Working revolutionary party    10. Liberal alliance    11. Union of Centrists  12. Popular Nationalist Movement-Chrysi Avgi  13. Panhellenic Macedonian Front  14. Society 15. Popular Unions of Bipartisan Social Groups  16. M-L Greek Communist Party 17. European Alliance – Rainbow   18. Party of Greek Hunters    19. Left anticapitalist cooperation  20. Patriotic Humanitarian Movement  21. Youth Party    22. Green Ecologists  23. Action  24. OAKKE – Organisation for the Reconstruction of Communist Party of Greece  25. Greek Ecologists  26. Greek Unit   27. Greek Movement of Direct Democracy

Euro – Elections Campaign in Greece

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)   The campaign for the upcoming elections for the European Parliament –which in Greece take place on June 7- is official underway with the announcement yesterday (17.5), by their respective leaders, of ruling New Democracy (ND) and main opposition PASOK parties’ candidates lists.  ND’s party list is headed by former education minister Marietta Giannakou while PASOK’s list is headed by its current spokesman, George Papaconstantinou.   Unveiling his party’s candidates, Karamanlis stressed that ND’s nominees constitute a strong and renewed team, capable of defending both national positions and EU principles. During the previous week, the Greek Communist Party (KKE), the Coalition of Radical Left(SYRIZA), the People’s Orthodox Rally (LAOS), the Ecologists-Greens and Action party(DRASSI) had unveiled their respective candidates list.  Meanwhile, the office of the European Parliament in Athens is inaugurating on May 21 the “Citizens Euro-Parliament,” a multi-media kiosk where citizens from the 27 member states of the EU can express their views and expectations by sending a recorded a video-message to the EU’s decision-making bodies.