Lessons about Magic, Family and Loving Life altogether
Athens, Christmas 1972.
I am 5 years old.
Like many times before and many, many times after, my parents have chosen to take the 3 of us (them and me) to Greece for Christmas.
My father's Swiss family is usually less… festive than my mum’s Greek tribe.
So here we are.
Athens in those days is already a “big” city by my standards. There are Chiristmas lights in the streets and the toy stores have incredible window displays.
Ok, let me rewind slightly.
At the time, I live in a remote French village (or is it a remote Swiss or Greek village, I must say I’m not sure as we moved so much…) and the mere idea of Christmas lights, or even toy shops... is that of a fairy tale…
Oh and for the younger ones around… 1972 means no internet, no smartphones and for me … not TV at all.
So the whole Christmas in the big city, lights and decorations, shops and urban excitement is … new!
And friggin exciting, I must say!
You can see in the photo above how much I try to contain my joy and excitement to stay still long enough for the picture to be taken…
Up until now, you might think that I’m just narrating the awe and wonder of a rural little girl being thrown into an urban celebration.
But there is way more…
I remember my Christmases in Greece as really, truthfully, Magic.
As a matter of fact, I believe that these celebrations literally had me witness Magic, and that it is since those days that I can say: I believe in Magic, real Magic.
Let me tell you my story…
We stayed at my grand-parents’ appartement, a big, gorgeous flat in the Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, dead on in the centre for those who don’t know it.
So, every night, from my windows, I could see the lights, hear the joyful people walking by with presents and good food for their gatherings.
My grandma (Yiayia in Greek) had a cook and I can still smell the incredible fragrances coming out of the kitchen of Kira Stavroula from the the traditional moussakas and pasticios to the more “original” baked turkey that my uncle and father suggested and “imported” from “Occidental Europe”.
And I'm not even mentioning the cakes, biscuits and other delicious treats…
All around the house, on every table and piece of furniture, you would find a bowl of clementines or little biscuits, a tin of chocolates or pistachios, or tiny “melomakarona” (OMGoddess you don’t know these? Well, I have to be honest... You’ve not lived until you’ve tasted one of these…)
All the bowls, containers and tins seemed to be permanently filled to the brim Magically ( it might have been the cook though…)
And the days before Christmas were spent nibbling on these delicacies, catching up with the family… and playing, as far as I was concerned.
So ... My Greek family is … extended!
I have cousins and aunts and uncles and relatives more or less distant, they seem to be everywhere on the planet nowadays! But at the time, at the time, the flat my grandfather owned was in a building where ALL the flats belonged to one of his siblings!
On the first floor with Auntie Tassie, with great grandmother Zoe, the best melomakarona of the building!
On the second floor, Uncle Alekos, both frightening with his loud voice and big laugh, and intriguing as he was a practical Magician and used to do tricks for us children… We loved being frightened by him, I think!
On the third floor, discreet uncle Michalis and his lovely wife Maria, always welcoming me with shining coins to fill my stockings when I came to their door to sing the traditional ”Kalanda” …
The “Kalanda” are Greek Carols sung by kid and adult Carolers groups alike, on specific days of the Christian Christmas calendar. They go from door to door and, asking for permission to enter the home, sing the Carols, often accompanied by simple triangles. After the singing resumes, the homeowners usually give them edible treats or small amounts of money as a thank you. There are three major songs, which are sung on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, and Epiphany’s Eve (January 5th) and all contain lines to wish the head of the household prosperity for the year ahead and a long life.
On the fourth floor, my grandparents Giorgos and Poupa… I’ll get back to that one…
And on the fifth floor lived mischievous and comedian uncle Spyros and wife Ketty … their place was the one to go for jokes, funny stories and laughter.
So the kids of the building (of which I was one of the youngest) would spend quite some time visiting other floors, and singing, and getting fed treats, jokes and Magic tricks and more generally fun and games.
Oh the memories…
I believe the atmosphere in this building during the holidays is fundamental to my loving Christmas altogether …
And don't even get me started with the decorations… a healthy competition would happen between the siblings of my grandfather and you could be amazed by candle displays, wreaths, homemade stained glass windows ( yes, more than one!) and trees galore.
The sheer Magic and the wonder were out of this world for the 5-year old girl that I was.
But the fourth floor was my palace and my playground…
Papous Giorgos was the patriarch of my close family and Yiayia Poupa the Queen of the land.
My mum, their oldest daughter and my dad, an out-rooted Swiss guy, permanently astonished by the lavish oriental style of the celebrations, seemed to consider that this was THE place to be for the holidays, so I spent most of my Christmases there.
With oh! So much joy and wonder!
I got to spend time with Theia Rita who was happy to listen to the stories I constantly made up about my dolls, and their travels.
I got to play with my Auntie Elena, only 9 years older than me and still a teenager… I remember both of us getting the same talking doll one year for Christmas… a singing doll whose one and only song we blasted for a week on constant replay… Ah that Little Perivolaki… I'm afraid everyone remembers it to this day…
And then there were Zoe and Yiannis, my aunt and uncle, young adults, freshly back from their British Universities, smelling of books, laughter and tea…and adventures!
And I, the only “real” child on that floor, the little princess, the apple of the eye of my grandparents, and of basically everyone.
I am told I was a lovely, lively little girl, a solar child that was always happy and bright and bouncing around.
And I believed in Magic, all the Magic. That of Christmas mostly.
Truthfully, I had reasons for that…
All the adults around went out of their way to help with that.
Mostly my grandfather.
Papous was crazy about me.
And I about him.
We lived very far apart, but he would record (on tape, yes I'm that old) stories for me… Not classic tales but stories he’d written, which took place in Athens, and whose characters were… toys!
My Papous actually wrote Toy Story 30 years before the movie!
The dolls from the Mister Tsoka shop in Kolonaki square would live huge, Magic adventures during the night, go to parties, to the beach, solve mysteries, fall in love, rescue dogs or other toys and even .. help Santa on his deliveries!
The tapes usually arrived by mail in October or November in France where I lived, and I would listen to the stories on replay while drawing or day-dreaming in my room for hours on end.
The BEST ever story telling!!
I’m just so grateful for the Magic that he infused in my life…
But that wasn’t all…
The way we do Christmas in my Greek family is as follows… On Christmas eve, we eat, go to church (or not!), merry meet and generally celebrate, talk, sing, and are “jolly”! Of course we’d also spend some time wrapping up our presents and playing the game of secrets and surprises .. and add to the already fully decorated tree and house .. some more! The Greeks are usually NOT about minimalism!!
Then we’d go to sleep.
And on Christmas morning, we would welcome more family members, cousins, aunts and uncles and close friends.
And we’d have a big breakfast all together.
Then we’d proceed to the gift distribution… an event that could take as much as a couple of hours as we went at it one present at a time and took time to celebrate, admire and compliment each and every present however big or small.
And let me tell you that some of the presents were …. First class in originality and thoughtfulness…
One year, I actually carried a whole smoked ham (with bone and all!) from France in my suitcase (yes, by plane, a long time before security measures and scanning machines!) … I was to give it to my Papous and Yiayia after I first gave them the special ham cutting knife.. Which felt like a disappointing present for a few moments… before I came back with the smoked ham which had been hidden, hanging outside my window seal for a whole week since my arrival… (just imagine what the neighbors thought!!)
So.. the presents…
But before the presents… breakfast.
And that was when I was fully led to believe in Magic as a “real” thing!
When I went to bed on Christmas eve, the tree in the living room was all finished and decorated… but no presents were visible anywhere!
The next morning, I would find the door to the living room locked .. Mysterious!
And then would run to the dining room to get breakfast with everyone ...
Towards the end of the breakfast, some bells could be heard ringing… And Magically, the door to the living room would now be open… and the room loaded with all the presents, glistening and shining under the lighted tree…
I was tuned and in awe, and oh! so sure Santa and the Angels (Greek tradition!) had just made this huge delivery… even if I had wrapped some of those presents myself (never question a child’s suspension of disbelief!)
But the most Magic thing was the door opening .. on its own … as if the bells themselves, the Angels that is, had Magically opened them.
It took me years to understand (although I knew it .. obviously!) that the living room had 2 doors … and that my Papous would leave the dining room to go open one door from the inside .. just after putting up a record of bells ringing on his gramophone…
For all those Magical experiences of Christmas , for all the excitement, for all the enchantment, the heart warming decorations and love-felt attentions, the beautiful illusions, the music, the community, the cuddly feelings, the wonder, for the awe, the comfort and joy, for all that .. and so much more … Christmas is to this day a favorite time of mine.
After the presents’ distribution, we’d eat (again!), then the grown ups would go for their traditional afternoon naps while the kids .. played with their newly received presents.
And since we had traveled from far… this day was never the only one we’d spent together… We would usually stay two weeks in Greece and enjoy the family and the Magic of the holidays!
I have so much gratitude for each and every one of those people and I miss the ones that have left for the Spirit world everyday.
Not only did they show me and have me experience what family can be at its best (and of course it doesn’t mean we were living in a Disney movie, we had issues too… But the love and support was always bigger than that…) they also made me live in a truthfully Magical world for two weeks every year …
And made me believe that we can create Magic in our lives … any day!
Thank you so much.
I miss you dearly.
I know Magic is real.
So much for today ...
I would be so happy to hear from you about all that.
Thank you in advance for your comment.
See you soon, for my next online adventures!
Until then I send you love, light and gratitude.