It’s Christmas in Athens again, and once more the city will be awash in lights and celebration. While decorating began in November, along with a favorite Athenian pastime: shopping, the major downtown festivities begin this week. So, whether you currently live in Athens or are visiting Athens anytime in December through early January, here’s a schedule of what you’ll find and where to find it. The city has once again planned lots of activities for young and old alike, with a special emphasis on children and family fun, raising social awareness in the spirit of the holidays, and not forgetting to plan an “adult” celebration at is rumored will be one fabulous holiday party on Christmas Eve, December 24, at Technopolis, the renovated gasworks art space in Gazi.
Once again the central square in Athens, Syntagma Square, adjacent to the Parliament Building, will be the centerpiece of the Athenian celebrations. This year, perhaps in respect to the trees lost throughout the country this past summer, the city will not try to erect the tallest tree in the European Union, although an almost 50 foot tall Christmas tree will be lit up in the square through the holiday season and the 60 seat colorful carousel lets this ex-pat Chicagoan go round and round and up and down, surrounded by holiday cheer reminiscent of a wintery afternoon on Chicago’s Navy Pier, but without the brisk winter air I’d be forced to brave at Navy Pier in Chicago – an added bonus of Christmas in Athens I suppose!
As part of the celebration, an entertainment pavilion will serve as a musical oasis featuring classical music, jazz, Christmas world music, Byzantine hymns and a unique version of Manos Hadjidakis’ “Reflections”. Visitors can expect to hear jazz groups, the Athens Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphonic Orchestra, Big Band and Greek Music Workshop in addition to ERT’s Children’s Orchestra, the Spyros Lambrou Children’s Choir, the Psalm Masters, Raining Pleasure and artists from Nigeria, Ukraine, Pakistan, the Balkans and Latin America, among others.
The city hasn’t limited its celebrations to Syntagma Square. As the lights turn on in Syntagma on December 13, 2007, so will they illuminate Omonia Square, Kallimarmaro Stadium (the Old Olympic Stadium) and numerous other squares throughout the city.
I believe it with former mayor Dora Bacoyiannis (now Foreign Minister) who set about to turn Athens into a winter wonderland. In fact, one year an ice skating rink was set up in front of Zappeio, between the National Gardens and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, who knows what the city event planners have in store for us this year in front of this beautiful palace like structure that was a gift to the city by the cousins Evangelis and Konstantinos Zappas in 1860. While I haven’t found out their plans yet, I am sure it will be worth a visit.
Visitors to the city will no doubt find themselves exploring the Plaka over the holidays. A 10 minute walk down Athenas street, toward Omonia Square, adjacent to Athens’ City Hall, is Kotzia Square, where from December 19 until January 6, 2008 “Christmas of Love and Solidarity” highlights 17 non-profit organizations working in Greece. It’s a great opportunity for residents and visitors alike to learn about the philanthropic and humanitarian efforts in and around Greece by organizations such as Action Aid, The Smile of a Child, Doctors without Borders, GreecePeace, the Hellenic Red Cross, Unicef, Unesco, SOS Childrens’ Villages, KETHEA PAREMVASI therapeutic program (KETHEA), Fair Trade Hellas, and Praksis. Not only is this a great opportunity to learn about what better known international nfp’s are doing in Greece, but it is a great chance to learn about some of domestic non-governmental agencies in Greece. What better souvenir to bring back from your visit in Greece than one which supports one of these worthy groups.
Don’t plan on visiting the National Gardens during the holidays – the vast, lush gardens, once the “backyard to the King and Queen, will be transformed into an Enchanted Forest full of surprises! Children of all ages are welcome, but bring your littlest ones for an afternoon of holiday magic – they’ll be guided through the Hidden Village by, what else given the season? Elves! And where will these little creatures be leading visitors? To the home of the Greek Santa Claus, Saint Vasilis of course!: The Enchanted Forest will open to visitors beginning December 20, 2007 and will remain open through January 6, 2008.
And finally, for bigger kids, the city of Athens is hosting a party on Christmas Eve at Technopolis: “Let’s Go Gazi”
The party features 5 Greek DJs and radio producers and should prove to be a great cultural immersion for the youthful visitors to the city. Nikos Mouratidis, Dimitris Papaspyropoulos, Spyros Payiatakis and the Marseaux sisters are guaranteed to keep party-goers dancing.
If you’d like some music during your visit over the holidays, but you aren’t up for the club crowd, the city is also sponsoring a number of concerts beginning December 20 and continuing until January 5, 2008. “Music on the Move” will feature alternative, pop, rock and reggae bands Locomondo, Zack Stefanou and his band Koala, Kitrina Podilata, Imam Baildi, Yiorgos and Stavros Mylonadakis, Leonidas Balafas, Yiorgos Mylonas and Panos Mouzourakis 16 performances scheduled in squares and other sites throughout the city, and the Athens Philharmonic Orchestra will parade through central streets, commercial districts and squares, filling the air with Christmas melodies.