Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas in Greece: Weird or Wonderful

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays. . .

‘Is is kinda weird to be out of the U.S. for Christmas?’ asked a friend of mine a few weeks ago.

After a bit of pondering, I answered, ‘No, not weird. More like wonderful. . .but definitely different.’

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Christmas Day downtown Agios Nikolaos
This is far from being our first Christmas spent outside the United States; we logged a whole string of them years ago during our younger work-a-day life.Then it was done not so much to celebrate differently but to stretch the annual vacation days allotted us (a week in the current year, coupled with a week in the new year gave us a two-week vacation without depleting the year's supply.)

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A church in a nearby village - closed on Christmas but decorated with orchids
A mix of retirement, few remaining family members and no holiday traditions with them, has encouraged the continuation of our Christmas vagabonding. Only two years ago, we ate breakfast in Cairo, lunch in Paris and rummaged through the cupboards of our Kirkland home for crackers and nuts for our 'Christmas dinner' after a very long day aboard airplanes. (You can get some great airfares flying on Christmas Day though!)

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My home-made table centerpiece - olive boughs, berry bush boughs and ribbon.
This, however, is the first Christmas that finds us living outside the United States.
Our first Christmas as ex pats.
In Greece.
And, all that has been different about it, has made it rather wonderful.

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Poinsettias for sale at our village grocery stores
In all honesty, we had a somewhat miserable week leading up to the big day. Boreas, the god of the North Wind and Winter Weather stopped by long enough the weekend before Christmas to knock out power in our area. We were reminded of how cold stone homes can with only a fireplace for heat, candles for light and no hot water. We became somewhat cranky. The Bah Humbug kind of cranky.

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Wind was so strong it blew surface water on the sea and reversed wave action on the shore
Power back on - yay! Then that rascal Boreas returned a couple days later for a full two-day stay with continued gusts so strong they ripped green lemons and leaves from our tree, knocked a window shutter to bits and toppled and broke heavy planters filled with dirt and flowers. We lost power again. (Suffice to say, neither our language or thoughts were focused on Christmas.)

Damage done, Boreas moved on making way for Santa Claus, St. Basil (whose day is Jan. 1st), St. Nikolaos and others to take center stage.

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Deck the trees with bags of olives, fa-la-la-la-la. . .

'Tis the Season of Olive Harvest

Living in a small Greek fishing village in the midst of Greece’s olive producing Kalamata region, does slow life’s pace. It is also a sharp contrast to the Christmas commercialism and expectations we knew in the United States. We have one dress shop, one bookstore, and two hardware stores that have remained open in the weeks before Christmas. A handful of restaurants are still operating. Most business have closed or severely reduced operations because owners are busy with their olive harvest -- the one activity that continues at a hectic pace.

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Olives going into the processor come out sometime later as olive oil

So important is olive harvest that our local mailman quit delivering the mail last week for several days so that he could harvest his olives. Can you imagine that happening two weeks before Christmas in the United States? There’d be mass revolt and panic. Olive harvest is in full swing right now with the presses running long hours.

Christmas in Greece – Traditions and Celebrations

Christmas in the Greek Orthodox religion begins on Christmas Eve and continues until Epiphany, Jan. 6th. The day the Magi arrived in Bethlehem.Gifts are given on that day to symbolize the gifts of the Wise Men.

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Christmas in Kalamata - the city was alive with shoppers and activity
With the stormy weather behind us, Christmas dawned with blue sky, sunshine with temperatures that allowed us to work in the garden and to take an outing to a neighboring village wearing long sleeved flannel shirts but no jackets. Christmas dinner was eaten at a local restaurant with another American ex pat couple, with whom we are good friends.

P1050910As I made decorations for the house, (one is pictured to the left) I chuckled at the thought of the four large boxes of decorations sitting in that storage unit back in the Pacific Northwest.

We didn’t have a tree as only large artificial ones were for sale in the large supermarket. (And legneds say that Greeks have a tradition of decorating small wooden boats instead of - or in addition to a tree - to honor Saint Nicholas/Agios Nikolaos the Patron Saint of Sailors as well as the fishermen and sailors themselves.) Next year I'll look for a boat to decorate.

We didn't have presents to unwrap. (The Scout got a new chair and I got a new kitchen faucet.)

I didn't cook a big dinner. Nor did I bake anything.

It really was a very different – but remarkably refreshing way to spend the day.

On January 6th, one of our favorite ceremonies, the Blessing of the Water, takes place in our villages. It commemorates the baptism of Jesus by Saint John in the Jordan River –also referred to as Theophany (God shining forth or Devine Manifestation) or Phota (Lights). which was when the Trinity was revealed.

Christmas Goodies

The 12 days between Christmas and January 6th are considered a time of feasting (as many of the devout have fasted during Advent). Anything celebrated with feasting is right up our alley! Several of you have asked in particular about the cookies and sweets, so here you go:

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Christmas treats from our neighbors
We are blessed to have a lovely Greek family living not far from us whom we turn to in times of disaster (like losing power) and we took them a gift box of bakery cookies. They had a gift box of cookies for us – all homemade! Kourabiedes, are holiday butter cookies, Melomacrona are honey cakes and Thiples are fried dough strips with honey and walnuts. To tell you they were magnificent is an understatement.

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Crhistmas cookies for sale at our favorite Kalamata bakery
Different – yes! Wonderful – definitely! Delicious – unquestionably!

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Christmas Day comes to a close in the village but the celebrations are just starting
We close with one of two greetings used here this time of year. Prior to Christmas Day the greeting is Kala Christouyenna (kala is 'good' and Christouyenna refers to Jesus’s birth). After that, the greeting becomes Chronia (Xponia) Polla which is commonly used as a birthday wish but is used as well at the New Year!

We thank you for the time you spent with us knowing that for many of you, this continues to be a hectic and busy time of year.  We hope your travels are healthy and happy until you are back with us again next week!

Linking this week with:
Best of Weekend
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

19 comments:

  1. Great photos, and I think its great to see how another culture celebrates Christmas time. Hope you having a great time, thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Thanks Jane. Glad you enjoyed the photos. And appreciate the time you spent 'with us'. Chronia Polla!

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  2. Even though we moved to Canada in 2008 we still come back to the States for Christmas to be with family (my mom) and now a good friend. I do have a dream of celebrating Christmas in my float cabin home, but it may not happen for a very long time. - Margy

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    1. Margy, if we still had parents I am certain we'd make it a point to be with them at Christmas. Such a blessing to be able to be with your mom. . .enjoy the time together - you'll have plenty of years in that beautiful float cabin home of yours! Chronia Polla! Jackie

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  3. That's so cool! So glad I found you! Will definitely be back. Hope you will visit me at http://nanahood.com/things-i-would-change-about-christmas-if-i-could

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    1. Hi Teresa, So glad you stopped by and left a message -- I found your Google+ page and enjoyed it - I too will be back to your blog! Chronia Polla!

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  4. Oh, Jackie, I am SO thrilled that you and the Scout have become such happy Greeks! I read your post with such interest and enthusiasm that you'd think I had no idea about what life is like in Greece! THAT's how much of a talented writer you are!

    Χρονια Πολλα! All the best in 2018 in your beautiful, stone house on the hill!

    Hugs,
    Poppy

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    1. Thank you! I take that as a very real compliment. Love to you and Chronia Polla! (My goal for 2018 is that you and I finally meet face-to-face for some hugs and laughs and catching up!) Hugs, Jackie

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  5. From Japan; I will give Christmas Illuminations to Tomodachi in the world! https://ryoma2sakamoto.wordpress.com/2017/12/25/from-japan-i-will-give-christmas-illuminations-to-tomodachi-in-the-world/

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    1. I just visited your blog and what lovely photos of Christmas. Happy holidays to you - please come back often!

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  6. Marvelous!
    Thanks for linking up at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2017/12/wishing-you-merry-christmas.html

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  7. Sending Seasons Greetings to your Greek paradise from our piece of paradise in Portugal. This is our 6th Christmas as expats and I have to agree with you, it's definitely different and all kinds of wonderful. Perhaps it's because we don't watch TV (except for Netflix) but we don't miss any of the holiday hype that begins in the States in October and becomes more frenetic until the years end. I (almost) appreciate hearing Christmas music in the stores and love the way our little town is decorated with lights. And I'm with you in appreciating the simplicity of the season which celebrates the ties of family and friends as well. Wishing you and Joel a very happy 2018 filled with more friends, laughter and new destinations to explore!

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    1. And the same good holiday wishes back to you in Portugal. It really is so different, yet so special, that it makes it difficult to think of things you are missing. However our friends who think we've moved to the moon would likely be taken aback when entering a grocery store and hearing Elvis crooning, "I'll have a blue, blue Christmas. . ." Happy New Year and hope its filled with all sorts of new adventures! xxx

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  8. Xronia Polla Jackie. When I first moved to Greece 21 years ago I had a really hard time adjusting to Christmas because I had kids and there was none of the merriment that prevailed in the States. Hardly any Christmas Trees either. So we had to build up a new set of traditions. And over the years like you the olive harvest became the centerpiece of the holidays. I am glad that I lived in Greece because now I don't get sucked into all the excess that goes on here. I hope you enjoy all the good and take the tough times with a grain of salt. After all there is something very romantic about candlelight and the lit fireplace in the wintertime.

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    1. Mary you've summed it up perfectly. I've said on many occasions it will be difficult to get used to the US pace and commercialism after having experienced such simple celebration here. You are correct about that candlelight and fire in the fireplace as well - happiness! Hope you had a great time in the big city and are adjusting to life in the US.

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  9. What a fascinating read...I knew nothing about Greece's Christmas holiday traditions. Now I get hungry just thinking about it.
    Kay
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

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  10. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing! Happy New Year!

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  11. I enjoyed this post so very much. It was fun learning all the things you covered in one interesting account of the holiday there. Most of all...I so love your amazing attitude about everything...

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  12. Another great posting Jackie. I enjoyed the photos and the story of the holiday experiences in your new home. I love that mail delivery is suspended for the harvest.

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