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Sunday, December 11, 2005 

Καλά Χριστούγεννα...Έπιτελους!

A Merry Christmas...Finally!

Every year, I'm getting better at celebrating Christmas in Greece. My tree goes up the first Sunday in December, I can actually locate all my ornaments and all my Christmas CDs have their own section in the CD jukebox. I've even shopped for a few Christmas presents. All in all, I'd say I've got the whole Christmas thing under control. Not like my first Christmas here.

That was probably my worst Christmas ever. I had no snow, no tree, no Christmas decorations, not to mention the fact that my knowledge of the Greek language was just enough to get me in trouble and my driving licence wasn't valid in Greece. Every simple task seemed gargantuan. I had totally underestimated celebrating Christmas in Greece.

The Tree
My mother-in-law decided to help me out by giving me her tree since she was going to Austria to spend her Christmas holidays. When my husband brought the tree home along with the decorations that went with it, my friend and I decorated it. She kept telling me how beautiful Dimitra's tree was on display at her house and how lucky I was that she gave it to me. But when we finished decorating, it looked nothing short of awful. The tree had a total of 8 needle-bare branches and the ornaments themselves were Ugly personified. My friend looked at me and said "What did you do to the tree? It never looked THIS bad before." I was crushed. How is it my mother-in-law, who would put Martha Stewart to shame with her home decor, could make such a sorry-looking tree look good with those ornaments. When my husband saw the tree he told me it was indeed ugly but not to worry about it because his mother would 'fix' it. How embarrassing. I come to a new country and I can't even decorate a tree. How was I going to survive? Luckily, my mother-in-law phoned later on that day and asked my husband how the tree looked. When he told her that she needed to come over help me make it look normal, she paused for a second and then said, "Which tree did you use?" He replied "what do you mean, "which tree"? I took the one you left by the door with the box of ornaments". She was horrified and said "you took the tree I left out for the garbage!" It turned out that the tree was a relic from the time the
Reign of the Colonels in Greece. Now that the mystery was solved and my Christmas decorating skills were still intact, I immediately went out and bought a new tree with new ornaments that very evening rather than risk my husband finding another tree in a dumpster somewhere.

The Gifts
My husband told me not to worry about buying gifts for everyone since he would do that and it would take him a day. I thought he was exaggerating. Buying gifts for 20 people in under a day 2 days before Christmas? Impossible. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Big mistake. He came home with several ceramic picture frames with teddy bears on them and a bunch of 300 drachma (1 euro) Coca Cola can lighters. I wouldn't have given them to my worst enemy. To this day, he still doesn't see what was so bad about his 'gifts' which is why, to this day, I still won't let him out at Christmas time with money in his pocket. I did the Christmas shopping myself and incredibly, I didn't forget anyone.

Christmas Dinner
In Canada, I always had Christmas Dinner with my family so someone else always went through the trouble of cooking the turkey which was a good thing because I'm a vegetarian. In Greece, I was left to my own devices. I thought "how difficult can it be? I'll just buy a
Butterball and be done with it." Famous last words. When my husband brought home the turkey from the local butcher, it still had FEATHERS on it and the giblets still inside!! There was no way I was going to touch it let alone stuff it...I would have been traumatized for life. Since it was already Christmas Eve, there was no alternative but to cook that poor creature. Our first big fight ensued. After a couple of hours bickering about who was going to prepare the turkey, we came to a compromise. I realized that there was no point getting a divorce over a dead bird. I would cook the stuffing and he would de-feather, de-giblet and stuff the turkey. Despite all the problems, the turkey turned out just fine and our marriage was saved...until New Year's Day.

New Year's Day
On New Year's Eve in Greece, many people play Eikosi Ena (21) a variant of blackjack for money. The game usually starts after midnight on Christmas Eve and finishes around daylight. On our first Christmas in Greece, we hosted the game at our house for all of our friends. My mother-in-law made the
Vassilopita (a cake served on New Year's Eve with a coin (flouri) inside to bring good luck to the recipient.) Once the cake was cut, the game began and we played until 7:30am. I won about 75€ so I went to bed happy. I even woke up happy until my husband asked what I was making for the New Year's Dinner. Since I only had about 4 hours sleep in the last 2 days and the house looked like war zone, I reasoned that it would be better if we just ordered a pizza. (In my own defence, this is usually what we did in Canada on New Year's Eve since we usually partied all night long and the next day, my place would be occupied by the previous evening's party goers who were often too inebriated to drive home. )

The Turkey Fight was nothing compared to the New Year's Day Fight. My husband was not the least bit impressed with my pizza solution and what started out as a lecture on the importance of New Year's Day dinners in Greece culminated into complaints about my total disorganization during the holiday season. Since I figured I already did The Compromise for Christmas, it would be a cold day in Hades before I caved and started cooking a 5 course meal on a minute's notice. So out the door I went. I came back a few hours later and neither of us would talk to each other but we did have to eat so I fried some pork chops and boiled some rice and that was our New Year's Day dinner. Later on the evening and after I had checked out airfares back to Canada on travelocity.com, we ended up talking to each other. He realized he could have informed me about the tradition of a Greek New Year's Day meal and then we came to an agreement which we still keep to this day. I would always cook Christmas dinner using a featherless turkey of my choice and on New Year's Day, we would go to his mother's house so I didn't have to spend my entire holiday season cooking and cleaning. Unbeknownst to him, I also decided I would delete Travelocity on my list of bookmarks if I was going to make a go of it in my new country.


Since that horrendous Christmas, every holiday since then has gotten better and better each year...more fun and less fights. What a difference time makes.

I didn't realize that celebrating Christmas would vary much from country to country. I think the first Christmas in Greece must have been tough for you being away from your family.

Although I'm still none the wiser as to what a butterball is and this is after checking out the site.

I think the fights that you had that Christmas are the same that happen in every household. We've had those Christmas fights in our household every Christmas for as long as I remember and the more people who happen to be there for dinner just means more people to involve themselves in the arguement.

Saying that, you know that I believe Kosta must have the patience of a saint being married ot you. The lecture on New Year and your total disorganization over the holidays. Wow, I'm surprised you didn't insert the tree where the sun doesn't shine. But it seems you've worked it out since, and the going to someone elses house always is the best idea because you don't have to prepare, cook and clean. You just go home at the end of the night to your own place when it's time for the clean up operation to begin (or is that just me?).

Well we're fast approaching the holiday season again, I've made a start at last. I put the lights on the balcony. The outside of the house looks great but we haven't even started on the inside although I think we need to maybe think about doing that this week.

My folks will actually be away for Christmas though (shock! horror!), I did complain them for abandoning their child but it seems they think I'm going with them!

We'll have to see...

But anyway, may the spirit of the season smile down on you and enjoy every moment!!

You're all set then! Time to be jolly! Kai tou chronou...!

When my husband saw the tree he told me it was indeed ugly but not to worry about it because his mother would 'fix' it.

ROTFLOL

Nice Greek boys, eh SeaWitch? Thanks for the story. It was very, very amusing. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.

Hey, that's definitely a Christmas cracker! Love this bit, "I realized that there was no point getting a divorce over a dead bird. I would cook the stuffing and he would de-feather, de-giblet and stuff the turkey." So, who got the best deal there, then!

Ah, Christmas, a time of peace and goodwill to all men. Except the relatives.

I think you were very brave, I'm sure I would have been on the first plane home! I don't care for Christmas really, apart from making it fun for young kids....but I just love January 2, when once again we are back to normal. Well here's wishing you a happy holiday time this year. NellieGwynne

Ellas...I didn't think it would be that different either which is why my first christmas here was basically a nightmare. I didn't even mention that Greeks give presents on Jan. 1 and not Christmas Day. I still give my presents on Christmas Day and no one complains. LOL Now, how can you not understand what a Butterball is? What's the picture shown no the home page of the link?? A TURKEY! hahaha You're right though...many homes see an increase in fights over the holidays and in this house, the traditional fight is always about how much money I spend. But I see that fight coming so I know how to handle it...I tell him that since his gifts are usually the most expensive, I can save half of the money just by not buying him anything. LOL

Thanks Ted! And a very merry Christmas to you too! I hope you get your tree up in time so Santa may have somewhere to put your gift certificate from FNAC. hehe

Yep Ethno. You know how it goes being a Greek boy yourself. LOL At least my husband doesn't use the "well, my mother does it this way" statement anymore for two reasons. He knows I'll ship him straight back to this mother's house and because he knows that his mother will only ship him straight back to me. hehe Merry Christmas and Kali Xronia to you and your family as well!


Et tu Mike??? It's obvious who got the best deal...my husband! He got to eat the turkey! LOL

Nellie...bravery had nothing to do with it! Bravery is when you KNOW how hard something will be and you still go ahead and do it. I had no clue. LOL (And many who know me will still say I haven't got one yet.) How can you not like Christmas with all that glitter and those presents? Normal is boring. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas anyway and maybe you'll feel sorry enough for me to actually fly Air Canada to come visit me. Wouldn't that be grand? I promise there won't be any fights. haha

Ho HO HO, Merry Christmas, Scruffy Claus.

This post was really funny SeaWitch. You have a talent. A very very happy Christmas to you.

So funny! And so not funny all at the same time. I didn't have it quite as bad moving here, but there were (and still are) differences and compromises to be made and sometimes I got a bit fed up of hearing "Well, this is just the way it's done!" with no regard as to what I might have been used to.

Hurray for Butterballs! Haven't had one of those in years but I do have a scrawny 12 pounder waiting in the freezer for Christmas dinner.

Your one line, "I realized that there was no point getting a divorce over a dead bird." sums it up for me in so many ways.

I'm so lucky that my husband has no real expectations as far as Christmas goes. I used to be really "Christmasy" but after the first year I had cats that ate all my decor I stopped.

Of course, every Christmas (except for the one when we lived on Kos) has been spent with his parents. His poor mother cooks TWO Christmas dinners, one on Christmas day for her family and one the day after for my father-in-law's family. Yeeshk.

I haven't yet experienced the family New Years, though, because we always like to spend New Years Eve on our own. And this year my husband will be working a shift on New Years Day so I don't have to worry about it. =p

I wonder if the ex-pat part of ourselves makes it easier to think "I should just get on a plane and go home" when things get a little rough and inconvenient. Of course, I'm not about to let my husband go, he is too much of a gem.

Heya Diva! I'm so pleased that my dysfunctional holidays are a source of enjoyment to you. LOL I know they are to my twin sister who always said to me..."If it weren't for you I wouldn't have any 'worst case' scenarios to cheer up my friends with." Apparently, she loves to tell her friends all the absurd things I've done in my life and it immediately makes their problems disappear. And people wonder why there's an ocean separating my family and me. LOL

Christina...If you had talked to me during my first Christmas here you would have had front row tickets to a 10 day Whine-A-Thon. Once I get through the difficulties, they only seem laughable when looking back on them. It's sort of like being inside the eye of the hurricane...all you see around you is chaos. If you can somehow get mentally outside of it, you see that's it's just a glorified windstorm.

I can't tell you how many times I've gotten in fights with my husband because of the "that's the way it's done here" response to a problem. Expats will always have a problem unbreaking customs ingrained within us from growing up in another country...like being on time for appointments to following driving laws. I still have a hard time knowing which battles to fight over here without losing my sense of "self". And the 'dead bird' rationale is still something I say to myself everytime a culture/traditions clash presents itself. All these years later, learning to compromise is something I will always have to work on.

Mel...you should just decorate your cats instead! A little bit of tinsel and reindeer antlers go a long way. LOL

Are you going to be spending New Year's Eve by yourself then? Or will you accompany Thanos to the hospital wearing your Elf's costume and help him with his patient diagnoses? You watch CSI...I bet you could accurately diagnose cerebral hematomas as quickly as the next doctor on call.

I think most expats live in a constant 'one foot in, one foot out' existence. In my expat experience, the grass is not always greener on the other side. A lot of the times it's just Astroturf.

Yea, but the "I could just hop on a plane and go home" goes miles for getting my way. Although I am sure it has a shelf-life. Haha!

Yea, I guess New Years Day will be spent alone, which is fine with me. I don't mind being around the family but I can still enjoy time to myself. I'm sure, though, that I will get an invite from my MIL. And no, I won't be going to the hospital. I'll go with him when he starts with the psych patients though. Psych patients are fun.

Καλα Χριστουγεννα to you and your family. Just bumped by accident into your blog and had a laugh with your various adventures in Greece. I am a "reverse" expat - a greek living in France, after having lived in the UK for 13 years and in the US for 3. I have lots of non-greek friends that live in Greece and your stories reminded me of their experiences with greek life when they first arrived in Athens. Enjoy the holidays - and Καλη Χρονια.
Βασιλης

Merry Christmas Sea Witch.
We are off to my sister's greek family and since mama is used to feeding a whole army I AM FASTING ALREADY.

I had a funny expercience though in Carrefour.. I have been looking for cranberries. I was so relieved carrefour have them then I was too shocked when I was at the till when I saw MANITARIA on the screen..

cranberries-manitaria?? popopo

happy holidays

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