In Greece, they say "Kala Christougenna," which means literally "Good Christmas." "Merry Christmas" is thus a great translation. As with all the many Greek wishes that go "Good [something]," this is a shorthanded way of saying "May you/we have a good Christmas." For that reason, Greeks only say this until the feast day itself. From Christmas day on, they say "Chronia polla" or something similar.
Greece's prime minister, George Papandreou, a Greek-American for whom Greek is a second language, received a good deal of ribbing in Greece and on YouTube for wishing the nation "Kali Anastasi" ("May you have a good Resurrection") after the Resurrection service early Easter Sunday morning. (Just for fun, check out this other video of Papandreou during Holy Week.) "Chronia polla," by the way, is used on all feast days and means literally, "Many years," or, again in shorthand, "May you/we celebrate this for many years to come."
I recently became interested in the origin of the expression "Christ is born!" after hearing and reading for some time (such as in this article) that this is "the standard greeting in Orthodox countries." Having never heard it here in Greece, I began to wonder from whence it came. I originally assumed Russia, as I usually do when I'm not sure (since I don't know all that much about the Russian tradition). But Russian friends recently told me that they'd never heard of it. They suspected, though, that it originated in Serbia. A Serbian friend confirmed this for me.
Presumably, this developed by analogy from the Pascha (Easter) greeting "Christ is risen!" My friend told me the response is even the same "Truly He is born!" -- just as "Truly He is risen!" I'm curious now if this or something else unique is used anywhere else, say in Romania.
We American converts, I have noticed, having generally been deprived of such rich Christian customs and traditions within our own culture, usually seem to take a "maximalist" approach to them, i.e. we adopt the most pious traditions we find in each Orthodox culture, thus forming our own American "melting pot" of such traditions.
Anyway, the babies' big present this year was a loft/fort in our living room, designed and made by Pres. Pelagia. We put it up on Christmas Eve and they saw it for the first time on Christmas morning. They loved it and started climbing up and down it immediately. Their favorite game is bombing pillows down on those below. Above, you can see Paul already on top, with Phoebe (brown) and Benjamin (green) close behind.
In Greece, the tradition is to celebrate the Liturgy for the feast early in the morning, starting either at 5 or 6 and lasting until 9 or 10. The monasteries and some parishes also celebrate it as a vigil ending around 2 AM. In our parish in Panorama, we ended around 10 AM and then we hung out at the house the rest of the day. We had a big lunch with our neighbors, the Lillies. Afterwards, Angela and her daughter Myrna stopped by, as well as our friend Paris with his nephew, Petros. The babies got lots of clothes, toy cars, and a few musical instruments. You can see the chaos in our living room in the photo above.
The little drummer boy Paul tries out his new drum with his godfather.
Paris with his nephew Petros and his godson Paul, who celebrate their name day together on June 29.