Faced with prolonged economic uncertainty after six years of recession, Greek consumers are trimming their Christmas spending again this year, and hoping for better times in future years.
The glitz of pre-crisis holiday seasons in Greece, from street decorations to shopping lists, has long gone. Austerity is the key word in household shopping budgets and this has inevitably affected trade for businesses.
"My budget for Christmas shopping will be limited. I will buy small gifts for my family and friends, but I cannot spend more than 200 euros (275 U.S. dollars), since my salary no longer exceeds 800 euros," Michael Kathreptas, a 30-year-old employee in an advertising company, told Xinhua.
"With my holiday bonus, I will buy a ticket for a summer concert abroad. It will be a gift from Santa!" he said.
Poli Kostourou, a 55-year-old private sector employee, said she would see her holiday bonus end up in the coffers of the Tax Office.
"It will be difficult this year. My money will mainly go to the Christmas dinner, as it is very important for us, for the whole family to spend holidays together and to enjoy these days," the mother of two children said.
"Unfortunately, we cannot spend the holiday bonus on gifts as in previous years, as the increased property tax awaits us in 2014," she said.
The 2013 average Christmas budget in Greece is projected to be about 450 euros (619 dollars), down about 12.8 percent from last year, according to a recent survey conducted by market research group Deloitte.
After rounds of cuts on salaries and pensions and tax hikes introduced to tackle the debt crisis, Greeks feared spending during the holidays.
The National Confederation of Greek Commerce (ESEE) expected austerity-hit Christmas sales this year, forecasting a 10.5 percent drop in turnover from last year to 6.8 billion euros (125 billion dollars).
It is worth noting the 2012 figure was the worst in a decade, 40 percent down on the previous year.
Given Christmas sales traditionally represent about 25 percent of the year's revenues, shop owners expect things will get worse before getting better.
"We have a saying in Greece that each last year is better than the current one," Aimilia Tsaini, a 32-year-old owner of a handmade gifts store in the center of Athens, told Xinhua.
But she added, "If we overcome the reef of the next six months, which are very critical, I believe we can hope for the better."
The latest Central Bank of Greece report, released this week, forecast a0.5 percent economic growth in 2014 with an upwards trend, if the ongoing efforts are not derailed, stressing a predicted slowdown in the decline of disposable incomes and, subsequently, consumption next year will support economic recovery.
It was not 100 percent optimistic, but "definitely less pessimistic" than a few months ago, Aggelos Tsakanikas, research director of the Athens-based Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) said. The ailing Greek economy, which was on the brink of meltdown just two years ago, seemed to have been stabilized.
Amid the desert of the retail market, online shopping is emerging as a sort of oasis, gaining popularity among Greeks looking for bargains.
Due to the crisis, the conservative Greeks had started to change their shopping habits, said Yorgos Doukidis, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business.
According to a recent survey, the on-line market of products and services in Greece was estimated to have grown by an impressive 25 percent to 3.2 billion euros (4.38 billion dollars) in 2013, up from 2.9 billion euros (3.97 billion dollars) in 2012.
The turnover is still very low compared to that for firms involved in traditional commerce in Greece and the 350 billion euro annual turnover in the European e-market, but the potential is significant.
Doukidis predicted revenues for on-line commerce in Greece could double in coming years.
Tsakanikas said there were some key indicators for a positive change. Stability in the banking system after the recapitalization program and an impressive performance by the tourism industry this year, among other factors, had boosted confidence in the prospects of the Greek economy.
Though the situation is tough, confidence within Greece is growing. The improvement of the economic climate in the eurozone and across the EU in recent months has supported the positive sentiment for the New Year.