By the first week of December, Christmas trees will have appeared on every Athenian square (the main one is lit ceremoniously on Syntagma Square). But it wasn’t so long ago that the more traditional karavaki (small boat) was the yuletide centrepiece, adorned with lights and ornaments. The custom began on the Greek islands, where sailors were often away from home for long periods of time. To celebrate the men’s safe return, locals decorated boats and placed them on the floor next to the fireplace, with bows pointed inwards to symbolise the journey home. Some neighbourhoods, usually those closer to the seaside, still observe this tradition.
Then there’s the carolling. Traditionally, groups of children ring their neighbours’ doorbells from the early morning hours on December 24, 31 and January 6. Accompanied by a musical triangle, they sing the kalanta (Christmas jingles) and usually earn a fair amount of pocket money from their generous neighbours in return. These days, you’re likely to run into little carollers all over the city’s shops, restaurants and cafes, asking: “Na ta poume?” (Shall we sing for you?).
On New Year’s Day, pomegranates are smashed on doorsteps across Athens. The bright pink seeds that spread out as a result signify happiness and abundance for the family in the year ahead.