New Year Greece

New Year’s celebrations and traditions around Greece

Say goodbye to 2023 and welcome 2024 in Athens and Thessaloniki the Greek way

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Pretty soon 2023 will be just a memory. As the New Year 2024 knocks on the door, Greece is putting on its festive best to mark the occasion. From open and free events, to plush dinners at distinguished hotels and enticing restaurants, the whole country is ready to make the year’s final day, New Year’s Eve, one to remember. There’s something for everyone’s taste and budget. Here are a few ideas to help you enter the New Year joyfully. Put all troubles aside and have a good time!

ATHENS

Countdown spectacle at Syntagma Square

Syntagma Square, Athens (Credit: https://www.liberal.gr)

Head to Syntagma Square where famed Greek presenters Nancy Zampetoglou and Thanasis Anagnostopoulos will act as hosts and lead the celebrations of welcoming 2024 in the city’s New Year’s Eve Countdown. The show organised by the City of Athens is broadcasted live on National Television. Be prepared for an all-night party with live music performances, DJ sets, dancing and fireworks. Greeks and foreign visitors start gathering at around 10pm. Admission is free so be ready for the joyful crowds.

Spectacular fireworks under the Acropolis

The neighborhood of Thiseio, at the foot of the Acropolis, becomes a bustling hub of celebration from 9pm. Live music, DJ sets, performers and a stunning New Year fireworks spectacle. A fun, family-friendly atmosphere with the lit-up Acropolis towering above. Admission is free.

Central Food Market “Varvakeios NYE Party”

Varvakeios Central Food Market (Credit: Municipality of Athens)

Welcome the arrival of 2024 with a wild party featuring some of Athens’ top Djs and music producers. The “Varvakeios NYE Party” hosted by Street Outdoors starts at 11:00 p.m and promises to continue until the early morning hours. Rhythm, dancing on Athinas street, in the old central district in one of Athens’ most iconic buildings. Admission is free.

Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC)

Fireworks at Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (Credit: SNFCC)

True to its annual tradition, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) is putting on its holiday glam and getting ready to welcome the public for the turn of the year. A phantasmagoria of fireworks, live music, a huge party, the first race of the year and, of course, ice skating into the night! The New Year’s Eve program opens at 10.30pm with African-Greek Idra Kayne in a music show, which she will present together with her 10-member band. The festive program will be broadcast live on ERT3 and snfcc.org. Admission is free.

THESSALONIKI

The 15th century White Tower on the waterfront of Thessaloniki

The historic Aristotelous Square in the center of Thessaloniki hosts the largest celebration in this port city, also know as Greece’s “co-capital”. On New Year’s Eve from 5pm until midnight, lanterns will fill the sky of the city, in the most atmospheric evening of the year. Music shows, happenings as well as unique confectionery workshops for children will take place during the event. The event is organized by the Trade Association of Thessaloniki. Admission is free. When the countdown approaches, concerts with a lineup of prominent Greek performers and musicians take place. Fireworks display over the waterfront are also guaranteed. The beautiful city is also known for its legendary night scene. A plethora of clubs and bars, scattered around Aristotelous Square and the White Tower, will have a special night prepared for New Year’s Eve. Eclectic DJ sets, excellent cocktails, and fun till dawn.

Greek New Year Traditions & Customs

Attending Church Service

Greek Orthodox Church Divine Liturgy (Credit: Romfea.gr)

The Orthodox Church has decided that their New Year is actually on September 1st, and not January 1st, which is the official completion of the actual calendar year. On the first day of the New Year the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates the life and legacy of Saint Basil of Caesarea, also known as St. Basil the Great or Agios Vasilios. On this day, Greek Orthodox Christians attend church service.

Vasilopita

Vasilopita (Credit: https://kayak.gr/)

January first is New Year’s Day as well as the feast day of St. Basil. Vasilopita is one of the most prominent Greek traditions on that day. In honor of both the New Year and St. Basil’s day, Greeks bake a cake called “Vasilopita” (directly translated as “Sweet Bread of St. Basil”) which contains a hidden coin inside. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest.  The person who gets the slice with the coin is supposed to have joy and blessings throughout the whole year. This tradition is observed in both parish churches and in the homes of the faithful.

Smashing the pomegranate

Another interesting custom involves a pomegranate fruit hung above the main entrance door of the house. In Greek culture, the ancient red nutritious fruit has symbolized fertility, prosperity, regeneration and good fortune for thousands of years. Some families may also get their pomegranate blessed at their local Greek Orthodox Church before hanging it. On the night the year changes, you hold the pomegranate fruit in your right hand, you go in the house, and you throw it, and you break it. The more seeds that scatter on the floor, the luckier the New Year will be.

Onion Decoration

In the island of Crete, the tradition of hanging Scilla Maritima, a common plant which grows wild and looks like a large onion, is still practiced in some homes, as a symbol of strength, abundance and wellbeing for the year ahead. Animals do not eat it because it has venom. Even if you take it out of the ground and hang it, it does not stop producing new leaves and flowers.

Podariko

A common tradition called “podariko” or first footing, is that the first person to enter a Greek house on New Year’s Day will be in charge of bringing good luck for everyone who lives in the house, for the rest of the year.

Protochroniatika Karavakia

Protochroniatika Karavakia, Chios, Greece (Credit: https://www.alithia.gr)

Chios and shipping are synonymous as the fifth largest Greek island is the motherland of many Greek shipowners. Young boys construct model ships, and on New Year’s Eve they gather in the main square and display them to passers-by. They also sing traditional carols and “penemata”, verses that they would write themselves and contain wishes for the up-coming year and blessings for the sailors and their families. This custom is named “Protochroniatika Karavakia”, which means New Years Little Boats. There is a prize for the best ship, but for most the main thing is participation.

Gouri

Lucky charm or “gouri” (Credit: https://www.toolittle.gr)

New Year’s lucky charm, or ‘gouri’ in Greek, is a traditional Greek New Year’s gift that you give to loved ones in order to bring them good luck. It is a popular symbol of love and protection for the new year. Of note, traditional Greek homes celebrate gift-giving on the name day of St. Basil, not on Christmas.

Kalanda

One of the oldest and  most heartwarming Greek traditions is singing carols. Children play the triangle, or other simple musical instruments, sing carols or “kalanda” and go around their neighborhood to spread hope and joy. It is a custom to give children money when they come knocking on your door. Kalanda are performed on the eves of Christmas, New Year and Epiphany.

Dishes for the New Year

The main dishes are meat, including roasted turkey and pork. In small towns and villages, pork is most often cooked, while roasted turkey is a newer tradition. As for dessert, kourabiedes, Greek butter cookies made with pure butter and almonds are a must. They are powdered with icing sugar and melt in your mouth with every bite!