Funny fact about Athens: Christmas just wasn’t that big of a deal until King Otto came along in the nineteenth century, bringing a whole sackful of Bavarian customs and traditions along with him, like a Christmas tree just outside of the palace. It took! Every year the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Syntagma Square signifies the official start of the holiday season in Greece and the whole square becomes Santa’s neighborhood. Here are a few other ways your family can get some seasonal jollies in Athens.
Just across Syntagma Square is the long pedestrian mall of Ermou. It’s a shopper’s wonderland all year round, but during Christmas it pops out with color and sound. Street musicians from all over the world stake out their spot and perform for hours. Chestnuts are literally roasting on open fires and giant bouquets of mylar balloons drive kids into a fit of the gimmie-gimmies, much like the affect the shoe store windows have on their mothers.
Every year the botanical gardens turn into a festive village full of eye candy. This year’s theme is “Earth’s Christmas Forest” with a large emphasis on exposing children to the way Christmas is celebrated around the world. Stage performances, stories, and a place where kids can make their own ornaments are just a sampling of the activities you can take part in.
The largest Christmas attraction of Athens is happening in the northern suburb of Goudi, just outside the Badminton Theatre. More is more with live music, sweets, craft and storytelling workshops. A play space features a large Playmobil castle, Santa’s little train, trampoline bungee jumping and an ice skating rink. Do a bit of seasonal shopping at the Christmas Market, set up throughout forty houses crafted in the folkloric style of Central Europe. The theatre itself is running performances of the Nutcracker (Nov 24) and Alexander the Great and the Cursed Dragon (Dec 17 ) The whole affair runs from the end of November to the 10th of January. Free admission, 4pm-11pm on weekdays, 11am-11pm on weekends and holidays.
For a bit of high culture that will keep the attention of everyone, try and catch a performance of the GNO. The Ballet, “The Snow Queen” with conductor Hobart Earle runs for nine performances from Nov 21st to Jan 5. Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera, “Hansel and Gretel,” runs from Dec 19th to Feb 17th.
The feature photo (courtesy of Elenapaint via Flickr) shows the antique carousel that is set up every Christmas in Syntagma Square.