Christmas in Greece is a special and unique experience. The country has adapted most of the Western traditions of the holiday, including sparkling lights, decorated trees, “winter” villages and all of the typical decorations you’ll find practically everywhere that celebrates the holiday.
Certain locales of Greece still hold on to pre-Christian pagan traditions that have been part of society for thousands of years, while others have created new traditions blending the old with the new.
Here are five of our favorite Christmas celebrations from throughout Greece.
1. Florina Fires
Every Christmas Eve in the northern Greek city of Florina, locals light dozens of large fires and host celebrations around them. In antiquity, they devoted the fires to the sun god, but over time the custom has been adapted to represent the fires that guided the Three Wise Men to the birth place of Jesus.
2. Volos Christmas Lanterns
A similar tradition of light exists in the central Greek city of Volos, where people gather along the shore and release thousands of “fanaria” or heat-propelled lanterns into the sky on December 26.
The lanterns represent Christmas wishes and people release them hoping that their wishes will reach the sky and be fulfilled.
3. Parga’s Stand-Up Surfing Santas
In the town of Parga, stand-up surfing Santa Clauses arrived in the harbor to spread holiday cheer. The region is known for its stand-up surfing and the local organizers mix the local sport with some holiday fun.
4. Thousands of Cretan Santas
For eight years, residents of Hania in western Crete have been dressing as Santa Claus and parading in the annual Santa Run. In 2015 more than 7,000 people took part in the fun to raise money for a local children’s shelter.
5. Ships of Chios
Most of Greece’s biggest ship owning families hail from Chios and Christmas traditions reflect this fact. Throughout the island, small ships are decorated with holiday decorations and lights and are on display throughout the holiday season.
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