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Friday, 26 April 2013

Lambada - Easter candle (Λαμπάδα)

It's that time of the year again, when Greek children look forward to a visit from their nona (νονά - godmother). Nona at Easter is a Greek tradition. She is a bit like the Easter version of Santa Claus, except that she is not an imaginary person, and children can usually guarantee that she will have brought them the present they want, because nona usually asks them beforehand. The customary gifts for Easter are new shoes and/or new clothes, a chocolate Easter egg and a lambada (Easter candle) which is lit on the midnight service of Easter Saturday.


How can I come to the house
With my hands empty (a phrase meaning "I didn't buy  a present")
That's why I went to the Jumbos (Jumbo is a toy warehouse, selling very cheap single-use products)
And I emptied out all the shelves.
 This is one of the kitschiest, trashiest crassiest and grossest tv commercials to ever be shown - but  it is highly successfully for all these reasons! Jumbo picks cliche-type tunes for its ads, and this is about as cliche as you can get pre-Easter - it isnt just the song style that was chosen, but the koumbaro  wearing a singlet, the lamb on the spit, the PET wine bottles, the children running to nona to see what she bought them, nona arriving over-dressed - this kind of advertising relies on aspects of Greek identity that we find very hard to part with (just like the Agapoula ads http://www.organicallycooked.com/2012/01/sweetie.html and http://www.organicallycooked.com/2012/06/return-of-agapoula.html) which have in recent times (ie during the crisis) come under scrutiny due to the difficulty of sustaining them.

I'm not a good example of a Greek nona, as I generally hate shopping. Instead of presents, I've always given my godson money. The whole idea of buying an overpriced candle (which no doubt he had already made at school befreo the term broke up for Easter) sounded like a waste of money to me, so I explained that I wouldn't buy this kind of rubbish which would very quickly be thrown away. I've never been one to burn my momey, and I certainly wasn't going to waste it on others in this way. I give him €30-50, depending on what is in my pocket at the time (sometimes there is more, sometimes less).

This may sound very harsh to the average Greek, as nona's presents are somewhat of a tradition.
A tradition that is fuelled by consumerism. But what happens when you don't have much money? What happens when suddenly what you thought you knew about life is overturned?

My children's godparents (as I have explained before) are at the opposite extremes. I can already guarantee that one of them will not bother coming at all (she's a bit of a scrooge), while the other will phone us up as tradition dictates and demand that we tell her what she should buy my daighter. She does this every eyar, and every year, i tell her that she really doesnt' need to buy anything. For a start, she never buys practical clothes; it's always something expensive that we don't get much wear out of, and it then goes into the charity bag. Then there is the ridiculously kitschy candle with a barbie doll tied round it. Since my daughter gave all her barbies away ages ago, the doll is untied from the candle and given to a neighbour's child, while the candle goes into the cupboard to be used in case of blackouts.

Nona's presents are a complete waste of money. Even when I whined about this with her, practically telling her off that she was wasting her hard-earned cash, she did not listen to me. What I was telling her was going against ingrained traditon. I was expressing the unthinkable: no presents. How can nona come to see her godchild without a Jumbo bag in tow?

This year, again nona phoned us to ask what she should buy her goddaughter. I told her that she truly has whatever she needs and really doesn't need any mroe new clothes (we bought new cheap - and above all wearable and useful - shoes and clothes only last month in London) and my daughter is getting too old for choclate eggs, stuffed toy bunnies and barbie candles. My daughter even told me that she was dreading her nona's presents. "They're never useful, are they, mum?"

"But I've got to buy her something," my civil servant koumbara insisted. She has had so many pay cuts that she has decided it isn't worth working any more. She has filed for retirement (she's 50). For this and many other reasons, she arouses my anger.

"I can't really tell you what to do with your money," I said. "If you've got money to waste, then go ahead and waste it." What I said to her was quite harsh, but she was rather provocative in her blind adherence to tradition, a tradition fulled by consumerism which is no longer sustainable. It may be her money, but I don't really want to be the cause of someone's financial ruin. Her pay has dropped, she spends a lot of money on petrol (she chose to build a villa that she now can't afford to maintain in a remote area), yet she still insists of buying unnecessary things that end up in a rubbish bag.

"But I can't not buy anything," she insisted, with a desperation in her voice that implied that was confused. What is confusing her is my attitude - I'm not playing my part right. I should be telling her to buy buy buy, not save save save.

"Well, how about a lambada then?" she said. "She needs a candle to go to church on Saturday night!" She was in for a greater shock.

"All the lambades you buy us remain unused. Do you really want to buy an overpriced candle so that I can add it to our throwaway collection of useless gifts?"

"But you will go to church, won't you? Everyone goes to the Anastasi on Holy Saturday!"

Some people are too naive, too immature, too stupid, too stuck to tradition to allow themselves to believe that there are people in this world that do not do what everyone else is doing just because everyone esle is doing it. My kids often fall asleep by 11pm; I would never wake them up just to go to church, and Holy Saturday is no exception. It's part of their programme to be active during the day and to go to bed at night. Kids like schedules. When there is no schedule, anarchy reigns. I know how important this is - I am a teacher. The Grek state is often to blame for the lack of a programme in people's daily routine, but since I know this, I usually implement my own. Whatever you do, you mustn't forget to have some kind of routine.

The ostentatious nona is simply following the leader. She is blind to alternatives. When she is given another option, she doesn't know what to do with it. It's like a fear of the unknown. She is afraid. Most people like her in Greece splurge their money unnecessarily to make themselves look and feel good and possibly to show off to other narrow- and like-minded folks in their little microcosmos. It's a vicious circle that they don;t know how to break because if the circle breaks, instead of the feeling of freedom that one would think would ensue in such circumstances, they feel trapped - they don't know what to do with a new opportunity. 

I have the feeling that our nona, who truly does have all the necessary comforts to lead a happy life, is probably feeling envious of my independence and the way I make my choices without blindly going along with the majority. Greeks are generally followers, not leaders, but I've always felt that I have been able to live the way that I wanted to in Greece without following the latest trends. It took a crisis for people to break their consumeristic traditions, but it's gooing to take at least 3-4 generations for the effects to be long-lasting.

In the end, we settled on nona giving my daughter money. I tried to make her understand that this is what I do with my godson, and it gives him the freedom to spend it in any way he likes, without the hassle of returning something to a shop. I also set her a limit: €20-30 is more than enough. It's the thought that counts, not the value in euro. But this is a concept that the average Greek is only now learning.

"But... no present?" Nona insisted. "I can't come with my hands empty!" Poor nona. She can't cope with the changes created by the crisis. I feel sorry for her chidlren most of all - she can't direct them appropriately. That's why a few generations are going to be needed before people start getting used to the new Greece.

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