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Music

"Chionia Sto Kampanario" - Snow falling on the bell tower

Stephanos Georgakopoulos works in the Southeastern Europe Department at Deutsche Welle. His mother is German; his father is Greek. At home, his family celebrates Christmas twice.

When Stephanos thinks about his childhood in Greece, one song springs to mind more than any others: "Chionia Sto Kampanario" (Snow Falls on the Bell Tower).

"Every Greek knows that song," he said. "If there is one traditional Christmas song, then it's that."

As the title shows, the song invokes a snow-covered setting. The church is lovingly decorated, and the entire village comes in the evening to participate in the mass. "But the song isn't sung there," Stephanos said. "One sticks to the liturgical songs of the mass. Christmas songs are not sung in church as they are in Germany."

People don't tend to sing Christmas songs at home with their families either - instead, singing them in groups or in parades. Children and young people usually do this, going door-to-door, singing carols just before Christmas, then again on Christmas Day, December 25th. Finally, they sound again on December 31, to celebrate the year as it comes to an end.

Children sing "Chionia Sto Kampanario" to families to wish them health and happiness - and to ask them for a little treat.

"Children used to ask for sweets; now, they want money," Stephanos quipped. He also used to go from house to house, singing this song.

"A lot of our Christmas songs in Greece actually come from Germany, and are just translated, but 'Chionia Sto Kampanario' is really part of the Greek tradition," Stephanos said with a touch of pride. "It really is quite old, even though the music is relatively Western in style, and written for several voices, although that's not characteristic for Greece."

The song is part of Stephanos' earliest memories. He sang it as a pre-schooler and in school.

Regardless of whether Stephanos celebrates in Athens or Bonn, he always has a Christmas tree. "There are high mountains surrounding Athens, with lots of fir trees, so they are part of our tradition there as well," he said. "But it's different on the Greek islands: There, people decorate little ships with Christmas lights that shine even far away." But whether the mainland or the islands, one thing is clear: Christmas isn't Christmas without "Chionia Sto Kampanario," snow on the bell tower.