June 20, 2024

Athens News

News in English from Greece

Ancient Greek roots of Christmas traditions

Surprisingly, many elements of the beloved Christian holiday of Christmas have roots in Ancient Greece. Image: Silenus holds the baby Dionysus in his arms. Roman marble copy of the original Greek sculpture. Original sculpture attributed to Lysippos, c. 310–300 BC e. Photo: flickr / Egisto Sani CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Christmas is one of the most important and revered holidays of Christianity, a day filled with joy and love. Surprisingly, many elements of Christmas celebrations have their roots in Ancient Greece.

Each country celebrates Christmas according to its own customs, which have deep roots in history and traditions. In the celebration of the birth of Christ and Dionysus we can find many similarities between ancient and modern Greece. Some of our customs have their roots in Ancient Greece. In fact, many elements of holiday customs can be traced back to pagan festivals throughout Europe.

Many Christmas traditions go back to ancient Greece.

In December, the ancient Greeks celebrated the birth of Dionysus, calling him “Savior” and the divine “baby.” According to Greek mythology, his mother was the mortal woman Semele and his father was Zeus, the king of the gods.


The priest of Dionysus held a shepherd’s staff in his hands, just like the Good Shepherd. On December 30, the ancient Greeks celebrated his rebirth.

The most famous custom throughout Christendom is the singing of Christmas carols, a tradition dating back to ancient Greece. In particular, during his stay on the island of Samos, Homer, together with a group of children, composed a number of hymns similar to carols. In ancient Greece, these hymns symbolized joy, wealth and peace, and children sang them only in the homes of the rich. Children walked from house to house, holding in their hands an olive or laurel branch decorated with wool (a symbol of health and beauty) and various fruits. Children took the olive branch to their home and hung it on the door, where it remained until the end of the year.

How much will a Christmas tree cost this year?

Christmas tree
The Christmas tree first appeared in Germany. It gained worldwide fame in the 19th century, when Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, almost single-handedly brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to the British Isles.

In Christianity, it symbolizes rejoicing at the birth of Jesus Christ and the rebirth of life as he rose again after death. The Christmas tree was decorated first with fruits, and then with candies and sweets.

The ancient Greeks also decorated ancient temples with trees, symbolizing divine gifts. The Christmas tradition came to Greece in 1833, when the Bavarians decorated the palace of King Otto.

Another striking similarity is Santa Claus, who travels around the world on Christmas Eve delivering gifts in a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. A similar tradition existed during the celebration of Dionysus in Ancient Greece, which resembled light. Then the chariot turned into a sleigh, and the horses into deer.

Vasilopita - Greek New Year's pie

Vasilopita, or Greek New Year’s cake, is also a development of the ancient Greek custom. Our ancestors offered “festive bread” to the gods during rural festivals such as Talisia or Thesmophoria.

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