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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)

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Enjoy a Movie under the stars in Athens

The arrival of summer in Athens is a big event: the high temperatures and the sweet climate just won’t let anyone stay at home. One of the most popular summer activities of the Athenians, as for back as the early ’50s, is the open-air cinema tradition.
Catching a movie in an open-air cinema means that winter is gone for good. Athens is home of more than 30 open-air cinemas, located on terraces, and gardens or jammed between apartment blocks. “Zefyros” in the beautiful Athenian neighborhood of Petralona, “Thission” in Dionysiou Aeropagitou pedestrian precinct or “Vox”” on a terrace in Exarchia square to name but a few.
The movies that are usually projected are reruns of first-run films from the winter period and remakes of famous classical movies.Watching movies under the starry sky, while enjoying your cold drink is a unique experience and the best choice for the warm summer nights in the city.
(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)

Karaghiozis: “Inextricable part of Greek Culture”

Greece is planning to press its claims to Karaghiozis, a shadow puppet theatre character that UNESCO has deemed to be part of Turkey’s cultural heritage.
“Karaghiozis is an extricable part of our culture,” Foreign Ministry’s Spokesperson said, adding that UNESCO allows neighbouring countries to access the same commodity when it comes to intangible cultural heritage.
The issue has prompted an announcement by the Ministry of Culture, according to which, “it is commonly known and undoubted that shadow theatre refers to a cultural tradition which surpasses boundaries and spans through the Balkans, and the broader East, long time before the emergence of contemporary states.

Concerning the Greek version of Karaghiozis, it represents a vivid chapter of Modern Greek culture, which defends traditional values broadly cherished by the Greek people.”

Museum of Shadow Theatre: Museum of Shadow Theatre & Greek Shadow Theatre Group Athanasiou: Karaghiozis-History
You Tube: Karagiozis & Athens Plus (16.7.2010): Greece to stake its claim to Karagiozis show
(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)

Ρέα Γαλανάκη “Φωτιές του Ιούδα, Στάχτες του Οιδίποδα”

      Μυθιστόρημα 
Η άφιξη μιας νεαρής Ελληνοεβραίας δασκάλας σε ορεινό χωριό της Κρήτης, το έτος 2000, όσο και το πασχαλινό έθιμο της καύσης του Ιούδα, δίνουν αφορμή για μια τομή στο “άβατον” των σύγχρονων ορεινών κοινωνιών της νήσου, αλλά και για το ξεδίπλωμα μιας παλιάς κρητικής παράδοσης, που αποδίδει στο πρόσωπο του βιβλικού Ιούδα τη μοίρα του μυθικού Οιδίποδα. Νόμος και παρανομία, έρωτες και τελετουργίες, φονικά και αποσιωπήσεις, ρηξικέλευθες αλλά και απαρχαιωμένες αντιλήψεις, συνθέτουν ένα σκηνικό γεμάτο συγκρούσεις και αντιφάσεις, μέσα στο οποίο η νεαρή γυναίκα αναζητεί τις ρίζες της ταραγμένης οικογενειακής της ιστορίας. Παράλληλα, ο περί τον Ιούδα και τον Οιδίποδα μύθος, ένας μύθος για το απόλυτο κακό, βαδίζει πάνω στα σκοτεινά δικά του μονοπάτια: ξεκινά από τα βάθη του χρόνου και φθάνει ως τις μέρες μας, για να υπηρετήσει αλλά και να ερμηνεύσει τις άκαμπτες δομές των ορεινών κλειστών κοινωνιών. Ένα “διπλό” βιβλίο, που αποκαλύπτει ότι μύθος και σύγχρονη ζωή συμπλέκονται σε ενιαίο σώμα, όπως άλλωστε και η λογοτεχνία με την πραγματικότητα.
Εκδόσεις Καστανιώτη
 

Thracian Art in Athens

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)   The City of Athens Art Gallery in collaboration with the Foundation for the Art and the Tradition of Thrace (in Greek) presents a folk tradition exhibition at the Folk Art and Tradition Centre, in Athens, until June 30, 2009. The display presents handmade objects of daily life such as jewellery, pottery, tapestry or clothing from the region of Thrace; a region which is characterised by the diversity and the multiculturalism of its inhabitants. Ethnological Museum of Thrace: www.emthrace.org ; Thrace: The Land of Orpheus & Municipality of Xanthi 

Reading Greece

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)  Julian Evans: An aesthetic of fatality (Times Literary Supplement  25.7.2008)
The Boundless Garden. Selected short stories, Volume One. By Alexandros Papadiamandis. Edited by Denise Harvey & Lambros Kamperidis, Athens: Harvey and Co. 
“The saint of modern Greek storytelling Alexandros Papadiamandis (1851- 1911) has rarely been published in English.  This is not a simple matter for a writer many Greeks believe to be the saint of modern Greek storytelling, its Dickens or its Chekhov.
The Boundless Garden, the first of a new three-volume English edition of Papadiamandis’s stories, was initiated by Philip Sherrard in the early 1990s and was continued by his widow, Denise Harvey. It constitutes a memorial tribute to Sherrard’s lifelong efforts to restore poetry and spirituality to what he felt to be the aridity of modern existence.
The Skiathos-born Papadiamandis, wedded to rural island Greece, simultaneously pantheistic and Orthodox, widely versed in the European literary tradition, explored themes of emigration, displacement and exile, paganism and the power of evil, urban solitude, the shattering of a homogeneous past by the momentum of modernity. These things, Sherrard believed, required the restorative synthesis of poetry to make their hardship and loss bearable…”

Made in Greece

(GREEK NEWS AGENDA)                Olive Oil
Nothing is more characteristic of Greece than the millions of olive trees that grow in valleys and mountainous areas. Olive oil is more than one of the leading agricultural products of Greece. It is a cultural heritage, reflecting thousands of years of history and tradition. Greece is in the major league of olive oil producers, and ranks second highest in the world. It produces more than 430,000 tons of olive oil annually and more than 80% of that is top quality extra virgin olive oil and organic olive oil, which is a much higher percentage than in other Mediterranean olive-oil-producing countries. Traders, consumers and chefs worldwide can benefit from the added value of the Greek high quality olive oil. Most organic olive oil produced in Greece is exported.The global olive oil industry is well aware of the superior quality of Greek olive oil. The increase in Greek exports reflects, to a certain extent, the recent shift towards healthier nutrition, worldwide.  Continue reading