If the thought of the January blues is already getting you down, now is the perfect time to plan a little break to help celebrate the beginning of a new year. January is a great time to travel. Not only will it help keep the festive season going longer, you’ll avoid the all-too-common crowds and chaos of the summer months.
Today, I am making the case for a January trip to the main port in Piraeus, Greece. With its close location to Athens and the unique part it plays in the festival of Epiphany, Piraeus is the ideal January destination for those who want to delve deeper into Greek culture.
The History of Epiphany
What is Epiphany?
Epiphany celebrates the events described in a well-known passage of the Bible when the voice of God was heard by those watching John the Baptist baptise Jesus Christ.
Those present heard God say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”. At this moment, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven like a dove.
This is an important passage for Christians as it is a moment of true divine presence when God, his Son and the Holy Spirit – in the form of a dove – were all present.
Who Celebrates It?
The festival is celebrated by Christians of all denominations across the world. In fact, along with Easter, it is one of the oldest Christian celebrations. In the Orthodox tradition – which is frequently followed in Greece – the day symbolises both the presence of God in creation and the sanctification of waters.
Epiphany in Greece
The word ‘epiphany’ itself derives from a Greek word meaning ‘vision of God’. This link hints to the huge importance the festival has in Greece. There are a variety of different ceremonies and festivities that occur around Epiphany to mark the day across the country.
The Orthodox Church
So, how do Greeks celebrate? Well, most of the ceremonies revolve around the Orthodox Church.
- The Eve of Epiphany – Children sing kalanta, or carols, about Jesus’ baptism and priests take blessed water to homes and sprinkle it around. This blesses the house and the families, and is a part of a ceremony called the Lesser Sanctification of Water.
- Epiphany Day – The day begins with church services followed by the Great Sanctification of Water.
The Blessing of the Waters
The reason to head to Piraeus in January is that the official national ceremony for the Blessing of the Waters – or the Great Sanctification – takes place at its main port in the beginning of each year.
Thousands of locals, as well as church officials, politicians and tourists, will be there to see a shining gold cross tossed into the sea by a priest. The cross is then retrieved by a group of divers. The one to successfully find the cross gains good luck for the year to come. A dove is released at the same time to symbolise the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Once this ceremony is over, boats are brought in to be blessed by the local priest. Though this ceremony happens all over Greece – with rivers, lakes and seas all blessed – the biggest celebration is in Piraeus.
Epiphany Customs Elsewhere in Greece
Each region or town has its own unique way of celebrating this special holiday.
- Masked parades take place in Kastoria and Kozani to scare away evil spirits.
- The Rougkatsi is popular in Thessalia. Locals dress up in costumes and go from house to house singing.
- In the north, a local ‘king’ dresses in a traditional shepherd’s cape and leads a magical ceremonial dance.
Where to Stay
Piraeus Dream Hotel – Just fifty yards from the main port and in the centre of the city, this stylish hotel is ideal for culture-loving couples. The Piraeus Dream offers chic modern rooms, a beautiful roof garden restaurant and stunning harbour views.
Piraeus Port Hotel – The Piraeus Port Hotel has a calm, boutique feel in a city centre location. Surrounded by excellent restaurants and cafes and just a short walk from the main port, this hotel provides value for money in a comfortable setting.
Argo Hotel Piraeus – This lovely family-run hotel is in a great location. It is only a 15-minute walk away from the beach and a few hundred yards from the port. The rooms are bright and comfortable and the staff are well-trained and always ready to help.
Top Tip: The cultural centre that is Athens is also easily accessible from all these hotels. Check out our guide on the city’s coolest attractions.
How to Get There
Fly from your nearest airport to Athens International Airport. From London airports, a flight takes about one and a half hours. Though there are six airlines that fly directly to Athens, the most popular has recently been British Airways.
Once you land in Athens, I would recommend getting a Shuttle Direct transfer to your resort, hotel or B&B. The journey from Athens Airport to Piraeus takes just under an hour. The benefits of booking a Shuttle Direct transfer are a stress-free connection, a quick and efficient journey to your destination and the ability to start your holiday as soon as possible.
About Shuttle Direct
At Shuttle Direct we pride ourselves on our global team of friendly and professional drivers. We have a range of transfer options to suit different budgets and needs and, with fixed rates and no booking fees, you can be confident you’re getting a fair deal.