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Christmas on Paros and in Athens

This was written in 2003.  For Christmas 2005 on Paros Read Here

Hi from Karin,

 Some of you have asked me what Christmas is like in Greece. As I write this, it is Christmas Day. So I think I can say I now know: on Paros, DEAD. In Athens, ALIVE!

 We watched  We watched  We watched  We watched the build-up to Christmas on Paros quite keenly with very little expectations of anything very exciting. (As told me by friends who have lived here awhile). So I was pleasantly surprised to find that in the main square in Pariokia is a nativity scene and a large Christmas tree shape made of lights. Some shops, (remember, there are few open now) have Christmas lights in them, and also a fairly good attempt at window decorations by some. The bakeries also have added fancy pastries that up till now, I have not seen. One is something like the Russian Teacakes that my daughter used to make for us at Christmas. Hers however are better. These seem less interesting, I think, because of the absence of anise seed. Also several shapes of honey sweets, sort of like long pasta noodles wound up and honey/sugar put over them.

 I have seen in the supermarket in Pariokia and also a Bargain Store, all sorts of Christmas Tree ornaments. Some very nice ones! In fact, I do not see a lot of Japanese or Chinese junk, these being mostly better quality and quite reasonably priced. I bought us a small fake green tree, which is the first time ever. I almost feel it necessary to apologise, since selecting and cutting a real tree still seems the only way to go! Our little tree sits on the end of the kitchen table, and we decorated it with little things found around the house: Very Creative - an earring, a fancy postage stamp, a bull ornament from a TEX MEX restaurant in the States, a Chinese thingie, and pieces of candy. Also a colourful little flat rock with a hole exactly in the centre! and some lovely yellow balls from a local bush that when they open become wonderful red seed pods that do not expel their seeds all over! (not yet, anyway) A sweet angel from a magazine cutout graces the top. Under the tree we have a miniature 3-sided icon where I have placed a few natural treasures: a few small shells that I find very pretty. Not very religious, I suppose, but it is nice to me. We have strung coloured lights in the sitting room, and another set in the kitchen.

 

In Aliki we do see the odd house here and there with lights strung up and around cactus, and trees including a small fishing boat up on the rock seawall with it's mast lit up. The small market here had a stand with chocolate Santa Clauses and other fancy boxed sweets. That was about all.

The radio has been playing some American carols. I must explain about that, because when I first sung Christmas Carols from a hymnal in Ireland, I was shocked and disappointed that the tunes were completely different than those I grew up with! (I might add it was told me that it was the Americans that changed the tunes, not they!) The carols we are hearing today on the radio are sung in good old American English. Some the old traditional ones, some newer. Even some by Elvis!

 One interesting event that takes place the day BEFORE Christmas is the kalandra singers. A group of young kids come to your house or business with a little metal triangle that you hit with a small metal stick. They sing a tune that sounds familiar but the words are in Greek. Once I knew it to be Jingle Bells, but they do sing other small rounds. The pay off is a Euro out of the till! When we were in the video store, inside of 15 minutes she had paid out nearly 5 Euros! Definitely not a good day for making money! But she was smiling as she paid out, so guess she takes it in stride...

 Something odd about Christmas Day: not one church bell has rung! If I looked out, I would think it was just another ho-hum normal day! I was told that Christmas is low key and Easter is when it ALL HAPPENS, the hoopla and events!

I am making an Irish Stew complete with Guinness, mushrooms, potatoes and broccoli. For dessert we will have a grilled fresh banana served with honey, etc. Complete with a good red Macedonian wine we tasted in a restaurant in Athens. Michael made salsa last night and so we are filling up on that and chips!

 What I really want to tell you about, however, is what Athens is like at Christmas! What a wonderful experience! As far as the shops go, I don't think they were at all like what I remember in the States, i.e. lots of last minute sales, every thing decorated inside, lots of people buying and moving around (getting cranky), etc. Actually, we did not go into many shops so maybe they are like that. It just appeared not to be that way.

I will explain why we went to Athens. Michael had to have a paper notarised, and there was no one on Paros who would notarise a legal document written in English. We had to go to the American Embassy. Either Michael could go up on the early morning ferry, do his business and return again on the evening ferry (10 hours total ferry time - UGH!) OR we could go up on the morning ferry, spend the rest of the afternoon looking around Athens, stay the night, go to the Embassy early the next morning, and then return in the late afternoon (6:00 PM). Since we both thought experiencing Christmas in Athens would be good fun, we opted to do the overnighter. Also, I knew that Christmas was going to be very lonely for us...just us two and no one else, no parties, no nothing. This seemed to be a good idea; we could celebrate with lights, dinner, etc. So off we went.

Athens was magic! Total magic. We went up to the Plaka (the old city under the Acropolis) which is a shopper's paradise! Also old Venetian architecture mixed in with ruins, etc. It was warm enough to take coffee outside at the coffeehouses. Then when dusk came, the night became a fairyland with lights everywhere! It is hard to explain them; they are different than what we have in the USA and also in Ireland. No coloured ones, and the designs are different. Suffice it to say, it was awesome!

 We walked through the Plaka up through the main shopping street, for foot traffic only, to the National Palace where the changing of National Palace where the changing of the guard takes place regularly on the hour. In front of this palace is a huge square called Syntagma Square. In it is the tallest Christmas tree in Europe!--they say. Every tree within the square was full of lights, but what was so exciting was Santa Clauses everywhere, holding small ponies for kids to have their pictures taken on. Balloon vendors galore with some of the most imaginable balloons I have ever seen! Vendors selling cotton candy, roasted corn and chestnuts. Carts full of all kinds of nuts to buy. Merchants selling their wares reminiscent of a souk: sunglasses, shirts, rugs, scarves, hats, gloves, books, paintings, even canaries! Along the street were entertainers from Bolivia and Peru, playing their instruments in hopes of selling their CD's. (They were selling like hotcakes!). Further along was a group from Jamaica playing steel drums and playing calypso. It was so much fun, everyone jiggling and wiggling! Even I could hardly manage to not make a complete fool of myself with the beat! I wanted SO MUCH to just shed my coat and wiggle all over with arms and legs going to the rhythm!!! But I held back....and it was hard to do that! I love music that makes me want to let go, so to speak. I dance much better in my mind, I might add!

All I could do was just keep saying: My God, this is magic! This is thrilling! This is so much fun! Look at that! Look at this! Everyone is having such a good time! Absolutely beautiful little girls all dressed up like snow bunnies in furry coats and hats! Proud parents showing them off! Families everywhere! Little boys carrying balloons like treasures! Mom's and Dad's carefree and laughing.... everyone in a wonderful spirit of Christmas! I was elated that we had decided to come to Athens instead of sitting in our cold rooms in Paros!

 

Dinner was nice in a cosy little restaurant with 2 men playing Greek instruments in the corner. I splurged and had rabbit stew (stifado). That is the restaurant we had the good wine in....so I wrote it down and then we found it in the market for our Christmas Day dinner. The hotel was comfortable, but not especially great. It was clean, on a nice street with trees, near the Acropolis...(you ask what is wrong with THAT?) Well, it was a grey inside lending to a sort of dismal atmosphere, and when we tried to go to sleep, the man next door did his dishes and we heard every little splash of water, never mind the noise of pots and pans! Then he proceeded to play computer games which we could hear the sounds of! I think when we got up in the early morning we got our revenge! Undoubtedly we made some noises he heard....talking, turning on and off the shower, etc.

 Going to the Embassy was interesting. I have never been in an Embassy and frankly was nervous about going. I was sure they would pick that time to blow up a bomb! The building is not especially pretty (others are housed in wonderful period houses). This one was just a big grey non-descript concrete building with a huge American Flag on top! Lots of security going in. Of course, I did not have my passport! nor my American driver's license! but did have my Irish one. So he let me in. However, he did take the camera out of my pocket! (I just don't think of all this no-no stuff). It went fast inside....a long long long queue at the Visa room. We went into a room with no one in it, so were finished in 5 minutes. But long enough for me to hear the American accent, along with the American Flag and shed a few tears. Michael thought that was interesting: that it hits me so fast! Well, it just does. Then we split up for each of us doing our own thing - and then met later at the ferry. I went shopping, and bought myself a nice Christmas gift. A jacket I saw the night before that said (no screamed!) "buy me"! It was a splurge, but it has been 1,000 years since I bought myself something nice. Only now, it looks too nice for my closet. Here it is late Christmas Day, and I am still in my robe! H--m-m-m? But, I will enjoy wearing it with my black trousers and/or black slim skirt! IF I EVER HAVE ANYWHERE TO GO! I ate lunch on my own in an outside cafe....then took the Metro to the port. I was proud of myself that I could go shopping, catch the underground, and get to the port on my own. There in Pireaus I window-shopped some more. What was the most fun was a huge church that had a bazaar! I was the only woman in the bazaar...yet it was not time to close. It was interesting, and if I really thought I had the money and place to put it, could have found some pretty interesting stuff. Which reminds me, we went to the Monistiraki area where they have flea markets and bargains galore with real treasures, no joking. I found my daughter a great birthday gift from an old church. It is an antique paradise also.

 Found Michael on the ferry, and set out on our 5-hour trip home. A short taxi ride back, and the Athens adventure was over, but I will always remember Syntagma Square at Christmas and all the glitter, hoopla and lights! It was like a fairy tale with a happy ending.

 Karin

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