Traditional highlights

Traditional highlightsThe following are some Athenian seasonal cultural holidays and traditional highlights you are sure to enjoy on your visit. Consider them when planning your trip!

January 6 - Theophania or the Celebration of the Epiphany. The most characteristic feature of the Orthodox Epiphany is the sanctifying of waters by invoking the spirit that appeared in the form of a dove over Christ at the time of his Baptism. The Orthodox faithful receive holy water at the end of the special service of the Epiphany and use it to bless their homes, gardens, and other possessions. Many preserve a small amount in a glass jar and may take a sip from it at times of illness and other personal or family adversities. On this important religious holiday, at several coastal inlets in Athens, the local priest throws a cross into the sea, while a large cheering crowd overlooks. In some areas they release three white doves symbolizing the Holy Trinity. The tradition calls for several young men to dive in and retrieve the cross. The first one to capture it is blessed by the priest and is said to have good luck for the rest of the year.

Celebrate Carnival or Apokries in Athens! The shops are filled with costumes and masks. Athenians of all ages dress up and look forward to the many masquerade parties and gatherings that abound before the start of Lent. The roots of the Greek Carnival customs can be traced back to antiquity. They are related to celebrations in honor of the wine god Dionyssos. In the past, the festive atmosphere was created by groups of masquerades who roamed the streets at night singing satirical songs. While the most extravagant Carnival party is traditionally found in the city of Patra on the Ionian coast of the Peloponnese, Athens equally enjoys a Dionyssian festive mood. Plan ahead and bring or buy a costume!

Tsiknopempti is another excuse to party in Athens. On this Thursday before Lent, Athenians trek out (once again) to the many restaurants to eat delectable grilled meats. Traditionally, this is the last chance to nibble on meat before the great fast.

Clean Monday or Kathara Deftera, the first day of Lent, is one of the most distinct Athenian days of the year characterized by kite-filled skies. Visit the annual official start of the Lenten fast on Philopappou Hill at the base of the Acropolis. Eat Lenten foods such as octopus, shrimp, bread, olives, cod roe and the sweet halvah while sipping wine and dancing to traditional Greek music. Just as delightful are the holiday feasts held annually at Lycabettus Hill, the park at Veikou (near the neighborhood of Galatsi) and at the pristine beaches along the Attica coast, where Athenians compete in a creative kite contest.

Easter (Holy Week) - As you might have guessed the festivities leading up to Easter are just teasers to the bouquet of celebrations that accompany, this, the most important of religious holidays for the Greeks. During Holy Week, church bells and hymns can be heard in the center and on the outskirts of Athens. Intoxicating aromas of traditional Easter foods emanate from local bakeries and homes and fill the spring air. Good Friday is an emotionally-charged day that ends with the Greek Orthodox churches' Epitaph procession and solemn candlelight vigil. It is especially spectacular to watch in Plaka, where the candle-holding faithful come together from neighboring churches to create a winding path of light. Holy Saturday, or the Anastassi (the Resurrection of Christ), is a joyous occasion that begins when the clock strikes at midnight. Together, Athenians chant the hymn Christos Anesti (Christ Has Risen) and wish each other well before enjoying the traditional magiritsa soup. Although it is customary for many Athenians to retreat to quaint mountain and island villages to prepare lamb on the spit on Easter Sunday, more and more Athenians choose to stay home to celebrate a more urban Easter at restaurants offering a modern take on the traditional Easter menu.

May 1, Protomayia or The first day of May (Labor Day) - The first day of May is another day that Athenians anticipate every year. It is considered the ushering in of the spring season. Traditionally, every family collects flowers from the neighboring gardens or the fields to make the May garland, which is then hung on their balconies. Big flower feasts and bazaars take place in the districts of Nea Philadelpheia and Kifissia.

Christmas, December 25th - Athens is a special Christmas destination. Characterized by a culture and a people that are welcoming and hospitable by nature, every visitor is made to feel at home. Athens sparkles as the lights that adorn its every corner reflect in the bright eyes of the cheerful holiday shoppers. The shops gleam as their ornate window displays aim to impress. The sweet and spicy smells of traditional Greek holiday cookies, breads and desserts are in the air and in every shop. Syntagma is especially impressive at Christmas as the 19th century neoclassical buildings and hotels that line its magically decorated square are lit up in glamorous splendour. Holiday sights and attractions that create a world of fantasy and fairytale delight for the entire family are centered here, in the square at Kotzia, and other magnificently decorated platies (or squares) throughout the city. Visit as many as you can for a true Athenian holiday experience. The city invites you to discover its magical lands, taste its delicious treats, hear music from around the world and play with traditional and modern-day toys.