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As the festive season approaches, Athens transforms into a shopper’s paradise, with extended store hours for the Christmas holidays. The Trade Association of Athens has announced that from December 12, stores in the city will welcome shoppers with open doors until later in the evening, adding to the magic of holiday shopping in this historic city.
Extended Shopping Hours:
- Weekdays: 09:00 to 21:00
- Saturdays: 09:00 to 18:00
- Special Sundays (Dec 17, 24, 31): 11:00 to 18:00
To enhance your shopping experience, here’s a guide to Athens’ top shopping districts, each offering its own unique charm:
1. Luxury Shopping: Kolonaki Nestled at the foot of Lycabettus Hill, Kolonaki is Athens’ most upscale district. Here, fashionistas can explore high-end boutiques, designer stores, and exclusive jewelry shops. Stroll along Tsakalof and Voukourestiou streets for the ultimate luxury shopping experience.
2. Mainstream and Trendy: Ermou Street Ermou Street, stretching from Syntagma Square to Monastiraki, is a bustling hub for mainstream fashion. This pedestrian street is lined with well-known international brands and local shops, offering everything from trendy outfits to souvenirs.
3. Bohemian and Alternative: Exarcheia For those seeking an alternative vibe, Exarcheia offers an eclectic mix of vintage stores, independent boutiques, and unique bookshops. This district’s rebellious spirit is reflected in its diverse shopping options.
4. Traditional and Local: Plaka Plaka, with its labyrinth of streets beneath the Acropolis, is perfect for those looking to experience traditional Greek shopping. From handmade crafts to local delicacies, Plaka offers an authentic shopping experience amidst historical surroundings.
5. Artsy and Chic: Gazi and Psyri These neighboring districts are known for their artsy and chic atmosphere. Wander through the streets of Gazi and Psyri to discover art galleries, trendy fashion stores, and artisanal shops, perfect for unique and artsy finds.
This Christmas, Athens not only extends its shopping hours but invites you to explore its diverse shopping districts, each offering a unique glimpse into the city’s vibrant culture. Whether you’re hunting for luxury items, trendy fashion, or local treasures, Athens has something to delight every shopper.
Update 27/12/2023 (From https://www.thenationalherald.com/)
If you find yourself in Athens around Christmas time and wonder about the many Greek-looking American English-speaking ‘tourists’, there is a good chance they are not visitors, but like this writer, have moved to the ever-more cosmopolitan capital of Greece – there are many, and they keep on coming.
One of the first and most interesting and delightful experiences of those American expats of Greek descent is comparing and contrasting Christmas in the States and the ‘Patrida’.
Of course, as is the case in many contexts in the Hellenic homeland, western mores and practices now permeate society, including the holidays. Walking down famous Ermou Street that connects Syntagma and Monastiraki squares, don’t stand and stare too long at the glitzy store windows festooned with holiday decorations that mirror shopping districts in Austria and London, New York, and LA – you might be knocked over by Greeks in the midst of their holiday shopping frenzy.
HELLENIC HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
As in the U.S., around the time Greek-Americans here are planning or recovering from their Thanksgiving feasts – the Hard Rock Café in Monastiraki has a wonderful Turkey dinner… and pumpkin pie, too – Christmas trees start popping up in every Athenian square. The one in Syntagma is the most impressive, but it is rivaled by the wonderful tree and nativity scene – there are plenty of those, too, in Athens – in the courtyard of the beautiful Municipal Theatre of Piraeus. Not long ago, however, the season was proclaimed not by trees but by the traditional ‘karavaki’ (boat). This custom illustrates the curious blending of Western and Eastern in Greece at Christmas, because while the boats are dedicated to St. Nicholas and are adorned with ‘Christmas Lights’, in Greece, he is not Father Christmas. The former is the patron saint of sailors and the tradition began on the Greek islands, where communities prayed to him for the safe return of their menfolk from sea voyages. Families decorated boats and placed them on the floor next to the fireplace. During the Christmas season – prompted by the beloved saint’s feast day on December 6, the boats with lights and decorations would pop up in the squares. Nicholas is not the saint bearing gifts at Christmastime. In the Orthodox Church, the children’s holiday hero is St. Basil – and the gifts arrive on his feast day on January 1.
Common to eastern and western Europe, however, is the tradition of singing holiday carols, known as ‘kalanta’ in the east. Groups of children ring their neighbors’ doorbells the mornings of December 24, 31, and January 6. The little musicians are accompanied by a musical triangle and they earn pocket money from their generous neighbors. At house doorways and on streets, the little ones ask adults “Na ta poume?” (Shall we sing for you?)
On New Year’s Day, one of the age-old traditions is smashing pomegranates on doorsteps across the country. The bright red seeds that result signify the amount of happiness and abundance for the family in the year ahead – the more seeds that spill out the better.
The New Year’s tradition par excellence, however, is the ‘vasilopita’, the St. Basil’s Cake. Each contains a coin. The slices are distributed to family members, and the one who finds the coin in their piece will have good luck all year.
On New Year’s Eve fireworks explode over the Acropolis, enjoyed by citizens from near and far. Many locals go to listen to bouzoukia bands at restaurants and bars while others welcome the New Year (and bid good riddance to the old) by playing cards until sunrise.
CHRISTMAS FOODS & SWEETS
There is a kind of national division regarding Christmas treats. There are two camps: those who love ‘melomakarona’ – syrupy oil-based biscuits flavored with honey, nuts, cloves, cinnamon, and orange – and those who adore ‘kourambiedes’. The latter are a totally different experience: crumbly, buttery cookies often including chopped almonds and always covered in powdered sugar.
Family dinner on Christmas day usually entails cooking as many different foods as possible, the family meal stretching from lunch to dinner time – but many families gather on Christmas Eve instead. The featured meat is usually pork, but turkey also makes an appearance, perhaps inspired by time spent in the U.S. Most restaurants in Athens are open during the holidays and offer special Christmas menus.
The Greeks are among those nations for whom ‘the 12 days of Christmas’ still has meaning. The end of the holiday season is marked by the ‘Theophania’ (Epiphany), on January 6. As Greek-Americans know, the highlight of that holiday is the ‘blessing of the waters’: a clergyman throws a cross into the sea and then swimsuit-clad bystanders dive into the cold waters to fish out the cross. The winner is blessed by the priest and can expect good fortune in the coming year.
WHY NOT MAKE YOUR NEXT VISIT TO GREECE DURING CHRISTMAS
The airfare and hotels and Airbnb’s are cheaper and the temperature is still warm in December, often reaching 70 degrees F. The Greek government’s long-time effort to encourage year-round tourism is succeeding, but largely due to the buzz generated by excellent bars and restaurants created by Athens’ entrepreneurs. They feature great food, a fun atmosphere, and excellent music in all genres, from rebetiko to rock to Greek pop to jazz – and the museums and archaeological sites can be enjoyed without sacrificing summer beach time.
In addition to getting tastes – literally and figuratively – of Greek Christmas traditions, Americans visiting for Christmas will feel right at home for the holidays because most public squares, halls, and parks in Athens turn into winter wonderlands – there are Christmas markets, carnivals, ice rinks, and and wonderful Christmas lights displays. Some of the nicest are the neighborhoods of Psyrri – check out the Little Kook café for holiday displays that may be kitschy but will bring smiles to the faces of at least your little ones.
Korai Square and Monastiraki Square are decked out for the season, but Christmas Central is Athens’ main Syntagma Square across the Parliament building. This year it features a 19-meter high fir tree decorated with lights and ornaments surrounded by marvelous light displays, including a giant teddy bear, a Christmas train, and hot air balloons.
Music is also in abundance, sometimes prompting dancing. There will be 15 live concerts this year in Syntagma presented by local artists, groups, and bands.
Syntagma does not have a monopoly on Christmas magic, however. The Christmas Factory at the Technopolis City of Athens hosts a range of festivities for people of all ages, making it the most popular family holiday destination. The ’Factory’ features eight different festive workshops with Santa and his elves, a theatrical performance of ‘Elafontaine – Aesop in Another Way’, a Christmas market for festive ornaments, gifts, holiday delicacies and drinks, an ice rink, a dance floor, the elf band, and more!
And then there is Santa Claus Kingdom, northeast of the Centre, on the Attiki Odos highway on the way to the airport. Visitors will find a special amusement and theme park, open only during the holidays – a carnival complete with a roller coaster and a Christmas train, life-size figures of festive movie and fairy tale characters, children’s Christmas plays, and the largest indoor ice rink in Athens along with snow slides.
One of the New Athens’ most delightful spots during the holidays – indeed it draws appreciative Athenians throughout the year – is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC). Every year they set up ‘Christmas World’ and the beloved fir tree-lined canal and dancing fountains take on a holiday spirit, with cultural shows and a variety of festive activities and music concerts every Sunday until Christmas at the Lighthouse. The revamped ice skating rink is also a great attraction.
Official Christmas attractions are decentralized in the National Capital, with the major malls decked out the way we are used to in Ameriki and Christmas Villages set up in 10 neighborhoods to delight young and old alike with a wide range of attractions – crafts, sweets, face painting, stilt walkers, jugglers, Christmas mascots, animators, puppeteers, magicians, and more.
What has become a much-loved tradition on Christmas Eve is the ‘Night of the Wishes’ when people of all ages light up Kotzia Square with traditional biodegradable lanterns that will rise to the sky with wishes. A van of the radio station ATHINA 9.84 will provide the ‘atmospheric’ musical accompaniment to the event.
Food and music dominate the senses during Christmas, and the fantastic Megaron – the Athens Concert Hall always presents fine musical fare. This year, the Johann Strauss Ensemble offers ‘Viennese Waltzes in Christmas Athens’, renowned organist Ourania Gassiou will again delight with a festive recital on the Megaron’s excellent and beautiful instrument, ‘Karagiozis’ Christmas at the Bottom of the Sea’ is a new production by shadow-puppeteer Elias Karellas, The Athens State Orchestra will play a Christmas. Concert, and famous crossover singer Mario Frangoulis has borrowed this article’s title (or vice versa) for his concert: ‘Christmas in Athens’.