Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year (Καλή Χρονιά, Χρόνια Πολλά)

A Cretan mantinada to usher in the New Year, 2009:
Λίγα λεπτά απέμειναν (Very few minutes remain)
το φως του οκτώ να σβήσει (of 8's light to fade away)
και το εννια που έρχεται (and of the 9 that's coming)
χαρές να σε γεμίσει (may it fill you with joy)

But the more I know about the world, the more difficult I find it I can believe this, especially in the over-commercialised Christmas times that we live among. While many children around the world are waiting for their presents, there will be many children that won't be getting any, because of the troubled times we live in. The economic crisis has put hard-working people out of a job, so many parents won't have money to spare for the toys their children see advertised on TV. Some countries are living through war times, so their children may not have any parents, while the children themselves may be having trouble staying alive. And some people are grieving for the loss of a loved one - Greece has lived through this tragedy so well just this past month. There will be no celebration in those houses.

Luckily, for us in Crete, Christmastime is a family-centred celebration which doesn't involve ham and turkey. Many people do cook turkey on Christmas Day and/or New Year's Day, but it is a tradition imported from other cultures. Santa Claus doesn't come to Greece on Christmas Day, either. Saint Nick is celebrated early in December (the 6th), while Christmas comes at the end of December. The task of distributing presents to children rests on one of the three most significant religious teachers in the Greek Orthodox Church, 'Αϊ Βασίλη (Ai-Vasili), St Basil, who is celebrated on the 1st of January, the first day of the new year, as he is believed to be closer to Christmas Day than Saint Nicholas. So children in Greece wake up on New Year's Day to find their presents under the tree. Even the Greek Christmas carols reflect this. St Basil was bishop of Kaisarea, and all Greek children know the Greek Christmas carol that goes "Agios Vasislis is coming... from Caesarea."

christmas tree
Most Greeks put up their Christmas tree some time in December, and take it down the day after Epiphany, the 6th of January, as that is the date when the Christmas holidays are considered officially over.

St Basil instead of St Nicholas dressed as Santa Claus in Greece may also have to do with the fact that the Greek Orthodox church used to follow the Julian calendar to work out the dates for Easter, but when it started to follow the Georgian calendar, some dates for some festivals (Christmas being among them) changed course slightly. There is a difference of fourteen days between the Julian and the Georgian Calendar, the latter celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. In the present-day Eastern Orthodox church, a group of people still follow the Julian calendar to work out festival dates, which dictates that Christmas falls on the 6th of January, making St Basil a likely candidate as the bearer of Christmas gifts for children. So the Greek Orthodox Christians meet the Old Calendarists (as the followers of the 6th-of-January Christmas are known) half-way on Santa Claus. Yet, even though it uses the Georgian calendar throughout the year, it is the Julian calendar that is used in all Christian Orthodox churches to work out the date for Easter, which is considered the most important festival in the Greek world (Christian Orthodox Easter always falls in April or May, never March).

christmas gifts
Thanks to Antigoni and Marina for their Christmas gifts: a Christmas tree decoration and a 2009 New Year's lucky charm.

I wish you all a Happy New Year
with peace, love and happiness all around...
Season's Greetings!

Happy New Year to all!

vasilopita 2009
This year's Vasilopita, a cake made in honour of the New Year

Here's hoping it's a better one for all of us!

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