Travelers commonly have questions about Christmas in Greece, which is understandable considering the country has many Greek Christmas customs and traditions and even specific ways to say "Merry Christmas" in Greek.
The Greek word for Christmas is Christougena or Christougenna, literally meaning "Christ's birth." When Greeks say "Merry Christmas," they say, "Kala Christougena." If you aren't sure how to pronounce that, you can hear how "Merry Christmas" and other phrases are spoken here—the apparent "g" sound is pronounced like a "y."
During the winter tourist season, you're likely to also see it as Kalo christougenna, but kala is also correct, and in Greek lettering, "Merry Christmas" is written as Καλά Χριστούγεννα.
The Greek Influence on Xmas
Greek has also had an impact on the written abbreviation of Christmas as "Xmas." While this is sometimes considered a disrespectful way of writing it, for the Greeks it is a way of writing the word using the cross symbolized by the "X." It is considered to be a perfectly respectful way of writing Christmas rather than a casual abbreviation.
Greece has its own musical traditions around the holidays, too. In fact, the English word for Christmas carol comes from the Greek dance, the Choraulein, which is performed to flute music. Christmas carols were originally sung during festivals all around the world, including in Greece, so this tradition still lives strong in many of the major cities and small villages of the country.
Some even believe that Santa Claus originated in Greece. In our article "Was Santa Greek?" we discuss the life of the 300 AD bishop Agios Nikolaos whose philanthropy and charity work around the young country included tales of him throwing gold down chimneys to help mitigate poverty. Although there are many origin stories for Santa Claus, this may be one of the oldest and biggest influences on the modern tradition and lore of the man from the North Pole.
A few popular Christmas songs in Greece include Lampis Livieratos's "Ta Hristougenna horis esena," Glykeria's "San Xristougenna" and Konstantinos Xristoforou's "Einai Xristougenna."
How to Say Happy New Year in Greek
Around the holidays, you will also hear Chronia Polla, which is how the Greeks wish each other a happy New Year, and it literally means "many years" and serves as a wish for long life and happy years to come.
You'll also likely see this phrase strung in lights across the main roads running through many villages and small towns in Greece, but sometimes it is spelled in English as Xronia Polla or Hronia Polla , while the Greek lettering for the phrase will read Χρόνια Πολλά.
The more formal New Year's greeting is a tongue twister: Eftikismenos o kenourisos kronos, which means "Happy New Year," but most people in Greece just stick with the shorter Chronia Polla. If you can master both, though, you're sure to impress at least one Greecian on your trip to this European country.