Holidays with Politismos
This holiday season, we invited our feature writers in Greece to share their favorite holiday stories with you. From tradition to travel and carols to cookies, you’ll see that no matter where we are in the world, there is a common thread in this joyous season! Celebrating with loved ones, enjoying good food and being enchanted and inspired by the spirit of hope and good cheer that fills the air!
My Best Winter Holiday, By Antonios Achoulias
Since my early childhood I had deemed winter the most impressive season of the year – and the best for children.
The Greek calendar is full of holidays that, apart from the traditional and religious character, fill children’s’ hearts with good memories! The three main winter holidays are Christmas, New Year’s and Theophania (Epiphany). For sentimental reasons I was always fond of Christmas and still consider it favorite holiday.
The reasons are quite simple and stem from childhood memories. Christmas time in my family was mostly about the children! A few days before December 25, our house had been decorated with multi-colored lights, figures of snowmen, Santa Claus and of course a big Christmas tree. Even now I keep up the tradition of decorating my house with multi-colored lights like the ones from my younger days…
One thing that still overwhelms my thoughts is how the house was filled with the scent of baked sweets! Greek cuisine includes a number of traditional Christmas sweets that are popular all over Greece; melomakarona, kourambiedes and diples prevail over the other sweets throughout Christmas table. The smell of cinnamon, honey and cloves still brings about memories of my childhood home.
Christmas Eve in Greece is full of songs. Children roam out on the streets singing traditional Christmas songs from door to door. Their reward? Sweets treats, and sometimes a little money.
Throughout the evening and following day, people enjoy celebrating with family and friends, eating and drinking around the Christmas tree (or a fireplace, for the lucky ones). The delicious smell of roasted meat (turkey, lamb or pork) and potatoes roasting in the oven wafts throughout the neighborhood. A hearty meat dish is still at the main dish of choice in most Greek Christmases.
I’ve never clearly defined why Christmas still warms my heart, but perhaps no further contemplation is necessary. It’s the subconscious speaking… The fact is, no matter what age, the Christmas holidays is a time we can relieve cherished childhood memories. And after all, it’s our memories that make us who we are, so why not keep them alive and make create even more!
“Et in Arcadia ego” – “Even in Arcadia, there I am”, By Nektaria Karakosta
One of my favorite holiday vacations was to Dimitsana, in Arcadia, Peloponnese. Exalted even in Greek mythology, it inspired the myth of Zeus’ bath in the holy river Loussios. It was a two-day escape from the busy city of Athens and a chance to enjoy the special time of year…
Greece is even more beautiful during this special time of year. Not just because of the decorations, but also because of the air of hope, joy and wishes for good blessings that people are filled with. My boyfriend (now husband!) and I took time away from the city to go somewhere quiet and special, to enjoy the season together, to enjoy the simpler things of life. Dimitsana was the gift we gave each other.
Both historic and picturesque, Dimitsana grasps your senses from minute one. 140 miles away from Athens, it lies on two facing hills above the gorge of Loussios river. We wandered through the preserved settlement and admire its stone and red-tiled buildings. We got lost in the festive and picturesque alleys, building up an appetite for the handmade pasta, local meats and cheeses that awaited our holiday table!
I remember on our first morning, we had breakfast in a wonderful dining room – on the wall hung a reproduction from Poussin’s painting “Et in Arcadia ego”. The painting was of shepherds, and a comforting sight this time of year. Yes, here we were in Arcadia… full of energy, ready to explore and be merry!
We wondered through village and found our way to the Open-Air Water Power Museum, a thematic museum about the importance of hydraulic power in traditional societies. It boasts a powder mill reconstruction, just like the one used in Dimitsana during the 1821 War of Independence. During the revolution against Ottoman rule, the people of Dimitsana played an active part, providing Greek fighters with gunpowder. Theodoros Kolokotronis, national hero of the War, wrote in his memoirs: “We had gunpowder, and Dimitsana made it!”
While we did not have the chance to climb to the Filosofou Monastery, looking upon gave us a great sense of peace for the season, for the blessings of this time, of this place. This serene place was dedicated to the dormition of the Virgin Mary, and originally founded in 963 AD. Through the centuries it transformed – a church, a school, a library, a “krifto sxolio” (hidden schools), there is so much history here, so many faithful who fought to keep our faith alive no matter the challenges.
Our trip to Dimitsana, was a great opportunity to relax, get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We had the chance to be in a place full of magic, experience, and blessing and for this, it will always be one of my favorite holidays!
I’ll be home for Christmas… by Athina D. Pantazatou
Despite it being a cliché (quite a sappy one at that!) and despite all the wonderful destinations you can travel to, you know your heart is set at coming home for the Holiday Season!
Most people would not think that an island of the Ionian, like Kefalonia – or any other Greek isle for that matter – could be a favorite Christmas/New Year’s destination, but hear me out…
The summit of Mount Aenos, at 5,341 feet, is what one might call quite “reachable” after a long but easy drive through the National Park and a ten-minute walk through the final miles; this is what most people do in the summer. But the truth of the matter is that there are some very beautiful hiking routes that are worth your time and effort! Late December or early January is the perfect season to hit the local hiking clubs (which usually rest during the summer months) and prance the trails of Mount Aenos, to marvel at the indigenous Cephalonian Fir (aka Greek Fir), other rare plants, some surprising wildlife (a semi-wild breed of Greek mountain horses), and stunning views.
Then, of course, there are the beaches. Everyone, including me, dreams of summer days spent lying on a beach, iced drink in hand, magazines & books in one’s lap, napping in between dives in crystal clear waters… Winter beaches, however, are enticing and magical! They have an entirely different atmosphere, a strange, wild beauty. A walk at Makris Yialos beach at sunset (just 2 miles off the capital city of Argostoli), is a family tradition and a precious Christmas day pastime for me.
When it comes to food we have to think, once again, out of the box: it’s not about the bird, and it’s not about the fish either! Who would have thought an island (other than Crete) has excellent meat, right? Lamb and goat stews, slowly cooked in wood-fired ovens are very common, traditional Christmas dishes. My personal favorite is the pork roast.
A local tradition I can never miss is taking a stroll in Argostoli’s main commercial street, in the late afternoon of New Year’s Eve. I always buy knick-knacks on discount; several shops run sales on that particular day and I have so many last-minute gift ideas (in Greece we exchange gifts on New Year’s Day rather than on Christmas). Local choirs and bands parade the street and sing the Christmas Carols, but I haven’t told you the fun part yet: as you walk about and shop and sing and spread the cheer, you also get sprayed –yes, you read that right… sprayed! Every year on New Year’s Eve the City Hall installs a big water tank of sorts, on the main street’s most central point. Several people in charge make sure they fill up any spray bottle you bring them, with perfumed water. Then you get about your business, spray-bottle in hand, and whenever you run into an acquaintance (and trust me you run into a lot) you spray them, and get sprayed in turn! It’s our way of wishing good luck in the New Year ahead. You can tell the little ones bring water guns along, right?
A Day to Remember, By Erriketi Chini
Christmas holidays. Days painted in red, extravagant decorations, intense emotions. Love, laughter and good spirit spread like wanderlust in the air. It’s a time to make wonderful memories!
December 2011. An 18-year-old girl, first year of college, couldn’t wait to enjoy her first holidays as an adult! Time spent with old and new friends, visiting new places, exploring life and making the most of every day! When you’re young, it’s like the world was made just for you, and you can become whatever you desire. On December 25th, this is how I felt, and I was the luckiest person to have set foot on Earth. If I close my eyes, I can see it all…
Sitting by the fireplace, sipping a warm cup of my favorite drink with cinnamon and honey, savoring gingerbread cookies, it’s how the day started. After watching “A Christmas Carol”, a tradition started years ago, and getting lost in the reflection of Christmas lights, I helped my mother for the day ahead. We wrapped presents, made spaghetti carbonara (her specialty!) and then I put on a sequined dress, something special to mark the occasion… My family, along with my dog in his red bow tie, set off to visit my grandparents, home to most of my childhood memories. It’s a family tradition to spend Christmas at their house since it is my grandmother’s name day too!
The door opened and I was overwhelmed! All my family, waiting to embrace me, I realized the true meaning of Christmas… On this day, we are all given the chance to step back from the rapid pace of life and spend quality time with loved ones!
My grandmother, a great cook, showed her love and gratitude the way she knew best, through her cooking! Baked potatoes marinated in mustard and honey, lettuce and arugula salad garnished with ground parmesan cheese… pomegranate arils and spinach…. sweet potato pie… and the centerpiece that we were all waiting for… roasted turkey and stuffing. Food to feed a family for a year and endless wine flowed I remember how just after dinner, everyone danced to traditional Greek music, dedicating songs to each other!
Exhausted from dancing, we sat to enjoy hot chocolate and treats – kourambiedes, melomakarona and diples. By evening time, most our relatives had left… but the party was not over! Our closest family knew the late evening tradition – our special pantomime game, similar to charades. What better way to end the day?
December 25th was the highlight of my holidays that year as shortly thereafter, I came down with the mumps and brought in the New Year at home watching movies and eating Vasilopita! It’s also special to me because a few months later, my beloved grandfather passed away. I am grateful to have shared such a wonderful Christmas with him that year, it is one of my most cherished memories. Now each year on December 25, as our family gathers to celebrate, I can hear his voice, his laughter, and feel warmth in my heart. I am blessed to have made such wonderful memories!