What is it REALLY like to live in Aegina?




CHRISTMAS IN AEGINA                                              DECEMBER 2007


I love being in Greece at Christmas time. Before coming here to live, I imagined that Christmas would never be as magical as the ones I had previously experienced in England which were family centred and seeped in tradition but here in Greece, Christmas is still family orientated but it is less all the needless stress that people get sucked into in England.

In England, as soon as August is over and the school uniforms and snorkels are dispatched  back into the storerooms, out come the Christmas puddings and cakes which line up on the shop shelves  along with armies of gaudy Christmas paraphernalia, a constant reminder of the march towards Christmas until one is sick of it all by December. Every magazine written for women has the ubiquitous article about ‘How to survive Christmas’ along with ‘Festive Catering’. Not to mention the numerous pages dedicated to ‘Presents for him’, ‘Presents for her’, ‘Presents for less than £100, £50.00,£ 20.00… no wonder everyone is stressed, they are all overdrawn!

In Greece, there isn’t a card sending tradition; one simply wishes people a happy Christmas as and when they are encountered. Presents are bought for children within the family or for those of close friends but nothing massively expensive.  Naturally, parents buy their children the latest techno toy or the much desired latest fashion item but they can afford to because they are not buying for the whole of the extended family, neighbours and colleagues.

Mid November is the time when Christmas fare creeps its way into the shops. Most of the products available are related to food or to adorning the home. Shop windows become an explosion of seasonal colour; red, green, silver and gold baubles, glassware, tinsel, table-cloths, candles, cutlery and crockery.

Strings of cinnamon sticks and dried aubergines and peppers hang like curtains against a backdrop of dried lavender and numerous herbs and spices, all of which exude a Christmassy smell like a gaseous mulled wine.

 Popular presents are beautiful bowls and plates from which one can serve the traditional Greek Christmas cakes and biscuits.  The beauty of Christmas shopping in Greece is firstly, there are a number of original little shops and a distinct absence of multi-nationals and secondly, shopkeepers offer to gift-wrap each purchase, which transforms the most basic bar of soap into an attractive, expensive looking gift. It is customary for shop assistants to place the wrapped gift into a small paper carrier bag which is stapled and finished with a ribbon and a small ceramic trinket.

A couple of days before Christmas, groups of children wander from house to house to sing traditional kalenda songs, the Greek equivalent of Christmas Carols.

Meanwhile, back at home, mothers will bake large quantities of festive Christmas biscuits, the spicy, honey-soaked melomakarana and the nutty korabiethes which are heavily dusted with icing sugar.

Christmas day is spent with the extended family and/or friends. Like England, turkey is the meat of choice and is served with roast potatoes, tzatziki and salad.( I pick fresh sage from the mountains which I add to home produced breadcrumbs and nuts to make a heady, aromatic stuffing.) Pudding consists of fresh fruit and Christmas biscuits. If the turkey is too big for the oven, one simply takes it to the local fournos where the baker will roast it alongside many others in his vast stone oven and some hours later when it is time to collect lunch, as one enters the premises, one is enveloped in a steamy warm cloud smelling of Sunday lunch and yeasty bread

In Aegina, many people choose to go for a post-luncheon stroll, usually in the town along the harbour front or to Perdika, a picturesque fishing village, anywhere that will allow them the opportunity to sit and chat over coffee.

Basically, Christmas in Greece is about food and people. The enjoyment focuses on the pleasure of sharing food and the company of family and friends when the richness of relationships is worn like a security blanket.

Surely this is a much healthier focus than worrying about buying unnecessary gifts, to demonstrate what? That we care? That we are thinking of someone?....better to invite them round for Christmas lunch and caring hospitality; it is much more likely to be remembered!


Alison Lorentzos   copyright 2008