Welcome to a special post where I have the opportunity to introduce five other Greek-biased bloggers via a Christmas blog hop:
I rejoice that I live once again in a predominantly Christian country. I was born and raised in the erstwhile Christian country of England, part of the Christian union of The United Kingdom. I went to Sunday church services with my Gran, albeit I was encouraged to silent reverence during the sermon by a seemingly endless supply of hard sweets she always had to hand.
I went to Sunday School and collected big colourful stamps in a booklet, which told of the Bible stories. Later I became a choir boy in our local church, which was little more than a big shed with an altar and other accoutrements including an organ that I frequently pumped. I say frequently, even though I was only called upon to pump monthly, no, what I really mean is infrequently. Distracted, my pumping was not regular enough to maintain a constant note and stern looks from the organist were necessary to keep me heaving on the handle, which doubtless caused our choir master to consider me as a candidate for crucifixion...a latter-day martyr to Handle’s messiah.
I was confirmed into the Church of England, sang hymns in school assemblies and went carol singing as a Boys’ Brigade member in an organised group maintaining the picture-postcard traditions. I married in a large parish church by licence granted by a surrogate bishop. My two sons were christened into the Church. My parents and In-laws had Christian services on their demise, as did my brother who died accidently, aged 17.
Then I turned my back on my faith and took up residence on the ‘naughty step’. Had I stayed rooted to this haven of meditation and repentance all would have been well, but my naughtiness went roaming and I suffered roaming charges which divided our family.
So what inspired me to pen this piece? It was the entreaty of a fellow Crete-based author to contribute to a Festive Blog Hop. I mused on the word ‘festive’ and tried to remember when it became a dumbed-down euphemism for Christmas. I reflected on the continuing watering down of the term Christmas so as to appease those that do not share the faith. I considered seasonal greetings cards bearing the legend ‘Happy Holidays’ and pondered on innocent bygone days and a vanished belief that things would continue forever unchanged. In some ways this abrogation of faith has come home to roost, we do not know what we believe in; we have few anchors to hold us steady in a gathering storm.
Six years ago we moved to Crete; it was October and we had decided that we wanted solitude, but the solitude of Frangokastello was more like seclusion, I felt a bit like the hermit in ‘Life of Brian’. We were not surprised that there was no celebration of Christmas there...sheep and rocks aren’t into that sort of thing. Yet having eventually moved to a part of Crete where there are more people, it was surprising to see that there was no significant celebration of Christmas in the churches and that Easter was the main event.
Periodically we are honoured to be invited to church services held at tiny, remote Orthodox outposts dotted around the general Lasithi area. It is heartening to see so many people frantically crossing themselves, as if seeking absolution. Long before the ‘after-celebrations’ get underway and my mind becomes befuddled by the illiberal amounts of raki I am forced to imbibe, I focus on some old dear swathed in black and try to imagine what awful thing she believes she did that demands absolution. As I watch her penance, my mind drifts back to myself as a well-placed choir boy gazing lustfully at some smooth-skinned maiden casting her eyes innocently at the cross on the altar, as if seeking forgiveness. Frequently at these far-flung churches, I now find myself craving absolution for those thoughts I harboured of giving the fresh-faced young girl something to feel guilty about, when I should have been concentrating on singing a reverential hymn. Maybe the old Greek lady, whose hand moves as if swatting flies, is also reflecting on the smooth-faced actions of her youth, but black-clad in piety, it is hard to imagine she has any regrets.
Back along, there was barely any secular celebration in Crete...even on the Lasithi plateau when it snowed, there were no snowmen let alone snowwomen to marvel at. Yet more recently all around the district, there appeared strings of light and illuminations welcoming people to many villages. It has become even more widespread with the Kronia Pola signs and the ubiquitous manger scenes everywhere. This year, I’ve noticed that to greet visitors, our village has a blow-up snowman dressed in a traditional Santa outfit.
On a visit to Jumbo, Heraklion I was truly amazed to see the familiar representations of ‘Christmas’ occupying so much space. So although Crete has not really celebrated Christmas religiously, it is certainly being encouraged by the ‘Christmas Industry’ to spend it commercially. Maybe it won’t be long before we see houses here weighed down with those lights, overgrown baubles and illuminated Santas waving from the roof tops...that very 'tack' that I was pleased to escape from six years ago.
Yes, I can say that Christmas here is certainly entering into the festive phase. Yet I would counsel Orthodox Christians from taking the celebrations too far, because as sure as night follows day the festivities, the holidays, the decorations and the presents will become the main event while the celebration of the birth of Christ will surely become as forgotten here as it is ‘back home’.
If you'd like to visit more blogs celebrating Greek Christmas themes, then take a hop through the list below. If you could leave a comment on one or more of the blogs, we would all be delighted.
My First Greek Island Christmas by Jennifer Barclay
Sugared Almond Biscuits (Κουραμπιέδες) by Amanda Bidirini
Kritsa Christmas by Yvonne Payne
My first Greek Christmas' by Julie Ryan
Beers with Santa on Tilos by Ian Smith
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