Spending the holidays in Hellas? Travel to Greece in December and January provides off-season discounts, light crowds, good air quality in Athens, and rich and moving Christmas pageantry, followed by New Year's celebrations and Epiphany.
Christmas in GreeceThe holidays in Greece are special times, beginning with the feast of St. Nikolaos on December 6th, when many Greeks exchange gifts.
By comparison with most Western European countries, Greece's celebration is still solemn and moving, a time for faith and family, with blissfully few of the commercial trappings visitors are accustomed to seeing elsewhere, though they are increasing every year. It's a good reason to go now. Due to the enduring financial crisis, 2014 may still be a more traditional Christmas with less glitz. Without much support from the beleaguered Greek government, celebrations are in the hands of the cities and towns themselves.In Athens, Syntagma Square will be decorated with ornaments made by schoolchildren with a Christmas "tree" created by art students. Empty shop windows - of which there are, sadly, many more than in the mid-2000s, will serve as temporary art display spaces. Overall, there will be displays and/or activities in the 3 main squares of Syntagma, Kotzia, and Klefthmono, at various places in the neighborhoods of Athens, and at cultural centers. 2014 updates may be found after about December 5th at this Christmas in Athens seasonal page.
Up in Florina, December 23rd and 24th sees a traditional holiday Bonfire Festival held at Agios Panteleimonas, near Amynteo. Remember that weather may be a factor in travel; Florina is about a two and a half hour drive from Thessaloniki. Amynteo offers hotel options; book ahead.
On New Year's Eve, look for a free city-sponsored concert and fireworks. Check the official Breathtaking Athens Christmas website for additional details.
Many businesses, sites, and museums will close irregularly through the holiday season. Officially, the actual dates of December 25th-26th and January 1st are the only ones supposed to be affected - but please don't count on this.
There is usually be a small travel crunch just before Christmas and just after January first and again after January 6th, as some Greeks go home for the holidays and then return to Athens. This year, due to the financial crisis, Greeks may not be traveling quite as much for the holidays, so the more casual visitor will probably find space on planes and ferries.
December Quick Look
Mainland Weather: Cold, rain, snow in the mountains, some fair days.
Island Weather: Cold and windy (though often sunny larger islands such as Crete and Rhodes and the west coast Ionians fare best.
Events: Athens arts events. Feast of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6th. New Year's Day and Epiphany bring light to January.
Facilities:The smaller Cycladic islands, more remote islands, and many others are virtually closed, with few hotels and restaurants remaining open and infrequent ferry service that makes island hopping difficult. Travel between isles is limited. But in the mountains, depending on the snow situation, the ski season usually begins, and you can take a peek through many winter resort webcams in Greece.
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