It’s hard to believe that almost six months have passed and I am now writing a Christmas post! There is no doubt that we are well-adjusted and part of the village at this point. I have had many people send holiday wishes and ask about Christmas in Greece, so I will sum it up with a brief summary and a photo/video journal.
Christmas is a quiet holiday in Greece. I believe that over the years it has become more commercialized in Athens and the larger cities, but on the island it takes a back seat to New Years Day and Easter. Christmas decorations are simple, with an occasional light up star in a window. In the squares and larger towns some lights are hung above businesses and on lamp posts. In Karavostamo there are three lamp posts wrapped with a green strand of lights and one red star hangs off of a telephone pole on the road leading out of the village. Elias and I were in Evdilos, the larger town next to our village one evening and saw a beautiful boat created from white lights, as well as “icicle lights” hanging from the awning of Rififi, a great little cafenio. Businesses celebrate the season with free alcohol and cookies. Yes, you read that right. At 8:30 one morning my father and I went to the bank, and although I knew they put out kourambiedes and finikia cookies, I was shocked to see a bottle of ouzo, Metaxa, and Johnnie Walker sitting next two the two giant plates of cookies! In most stores you enter you find the same offering, maybe with a substitute of homemade wine for the Johnny Walker.
In the homes, trees are modest and small and in some cases they are just a branch cut down from the pevka (pine forest) with a few bulbs decorating the single limb. Christmas eve day is a day reserved for children to sing Kalanda, or Christmas carols, door to door. They travel in groups of 3 or 4, with their triangles and money bags all around the village. It is something of a cross between Christmas caroling and Trick-or-Treating, but it lasts all day. The boys went out at 8:30 am, and I dragged them back in at 4:30pm. The kids knock on the doors and are asked to come in. They sing a song (the same song at every house) and are then offered cookies and given a few euros. Each of my kids came home with a small fortune. Really. A small fortune. For a country that is in an economic crisis, they are still generous with the children! The best part about Kalanda is that the village kids get to do it again on New Year’s Eve day!
Christmas day is a quiet day, and although I’m not certain, I would equate it with our Thanksgiving Day. Gifts aren’t exchanged and families gather for a traditional dinner of pig, goat, or turkey–whichever they chose to slaughter. A few stores remain open, but most people don’t work. By evening, the village cafenios are full of people and the kids play in the platia. Christmas gift are exchanged on January 1st, St. Basil’s Day and that is when St. Basil, aka Santa, leaves gifts for the children. I am aware of other traditional Greek customs and foods, but none that we’ve seen or taken part in this year. We kept Christmas small and put the focus on being together, healthy, and fortunate enough to have this amazing opportunity. The kids made gifts for each other and for others, and they each received one gift from Santa who made a special stop in Ikaria for the Americans visiting! My mom, sister, and aunts sent a few small gifts for the children to open, which my father brought over when he arrived last week.
Despite the small tree and limited number of gifts, the children had a wonderful Christmas morning opening their presents and eating no-so-delicious homemade cinnamon rolls. They were very proud of the gifts they made, and equally as appreciative when receiving them. This was another one of those moments when I was so very proud of my kids.
The weather was beautiful in Karavostamo today. No winds whipping at 40 mph. No rain. No clouds. The kids and I took a walk around the village and had fun singing our own American Christmas carol! The rest of the day was spent being lazy, watching movies, and playing legos. We had a wonderful Christmas dinner with my father and Bette of freshly slaughtered pig, a gift from cousin Peter. The only things missing from the day were TBS’s 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon and Chris.
Each event that passes, each month or milestone, I try to reflect on what we’ve learned or what we can take away from the experience. Today, I spent a bit of time on Facebook, reading my friends statuses, looking at their holiday photos. I saw big, beautiful houses, all decked out in holiday style. Trees covered in lights and decorations and surrounded by piles of gifts. Children with bright eyes and ear-to-ear smiles. In America, Christmas has become a time for parents to spoil their children and do their best to make all of their dreams come true. There’s a wonderful feeling a parent receives when they see their child touched by the “Christmas Magic” that they’ve helped to create. What I’ve learned is that without spending a lot of money or receiving a lot of presents, that same “magic” can be created. I just wonder if we will be able to recapture this feeling of contentment when we return to America–receiving little but still being full of joy.