In Greece, Christmas is considered one of the greatest feasts of the year. In Mykonos, however, it gets a distinct flavor.
The Greek island remains an undiscovered gem during Christmas. Most people flock to Athens to attend the festivities and only visit the Cyclades during the hot season. However, those in the know make their reservations for this time of the year to really get into the Greek culture. Here, tourists can enjoy events geared to people who love to learn about the local customs, visit archeological sites, and see breathtaking views of the island without having to deal with noisy crowds or lines of people.
One of the most heartwarming experiences is listening to islander kids singing Christmas carols or Kalanta. One can see small groups of children running around the winding streets of Chora since very early in the morning. They carry simple instruments, sometimes just a musical triangle and a toy boat. They knock on their neighbors’ doors asking if they can “Say it” (Na ta poume?). If you want to hear their song, the correct answer is “Peite ta”. Some of these ensembles are very good performers, but many just rattle out a tongue twister before asking for a reward.
After waking up the neighborhood, they head downtown to sing Kalanta to business owners and tourists. This is an activity thoroughly enjoyed by newcomer families and their kids. It’s a lovely way to get to meet your neighbors in the newly built villas in Mykonos.
You can experience them on December 24th, the 31st, and the Eve of Epiphany on January 5th.
Being such a devote community, one of the most important days in Mykonos is the Epiphany and the blessing of the waters. Its connotations are many. The day marks the arrival of the Three Wise Men who carried gifts for Baby Jesus. But being a community with ancestral ties to the great sea, they give special importance to the day when Jesus was cleansed in the Jordan river.
The highest priest in Mykonos goes house by house providing blessings for their occupants. People start following him until they form a numerous procession to the coast.
After a surge of houses for sale in Greece, Mykonos island has seen a steady increase in procession attendance. Both devotees and observers, now count in the hundreds as they approach the sea.
The highest priest then proceeds to sanctify the waters, and cast a cross into the cold water. The strongest and youngest men dive into the sea after the cross. The one that gets to it first, must return it to the priest to receive a special blessing of luck. Despite the freezing conditions, every year the number of youngsters eager to get lucky for a year increases.
You may even participate in this contest of courage and diving skills if you are daring enough and don´t mind being soaked in freezing water.
Fishers also bring their boats for the blessing ceremony. This is an essential part of Greek nautical traditions coming from biblical times.
As some visitors have mentioned, Christmas is the low season for the area. However, this is the time to enjoy many of the local attractions at more moderate prices without the worry and the hustle and bustle of multitudes coming and going. Indeed, the place doesn´t lack anything you would expect from a visit to enjoy your stay on the island. It is probably a great moment to try real local food at some of the smaller, less known eateries in Mykonos. Dare to discover many fascinating dishes as they´ve been traditionally prepared for generations.
When it comes to typical dishes, your neighbors on the island will probably share with you Vassilopita, a kind of Christmas cake with a coin inside it. The tradition says that if you find the coin in your piece, you´ll have good luck during the coming year.
For the first day of the New Year, another culinary tradition you can enjoy with your friends is a plate with fruits, honey, seeds (almonds and walnuts) and sweets which are eaten on the first day of the New Year.
Exchanging gifts is another cherished tradition among the local islanders and, if you ever buy a Mykonos villa there, you´ll probably have neighbors to share holiday gifts with on New Year’s Eve. For the kids, finding presents under a tree is a common custom. However, the Christmas tree is considered a different tradition and many Greeks prefer decorating small boats. Some of them are made big, and sometimes you can see them close to piers around the area.
Mykonos is home to unique customs. Don´t get surprised if you see a fire going in the fireplace of many homes for twelve days straight from Christmas to January sixth. It is supposed to scare away some evil spirits or leprechauns called kallikantzaroi.
These mischievous beings are believed to come into the homes through the chimneys and cause mayhem inside the house. Another way to get rid of these local gremlins is by sprinkling holy water around the place using a wooden cross dipped into a wooden bowl containing blessed water with a piece of basil.
Wonderful festivities, delicious dishes, and fascinating traditions make for some great reasons to enjoy the season there. For those who want to have a different experience, Mykonos is ideal because of its quiet coastal towns, stunning beaches, hikes on isolated hills, and numerous opportunities to feel the enchanting life around.
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