Who Stole my Greek Christmas?

19 Dec

If the media portrayed reality as it was, I would be writing about a somber Christmas, people around me not being able to afford gifts and lavish holiday treats and parties. They would be depressed, thinking of brighter holidays past and wondering whether things would ever return to how they were.

I’m sure this sad Greek Christmas does exist, but not around here.

We live in Kolonaki, a posh neighborhood in downtown Athens, where the Christmas decorations are as gaudy as anywhere else I’ve seen, save New York City. Bright gold stars hang above the main boulevard and there’s no store or restaurant that doesn’t have red ribbons, lights, a tree in its display window.

All of this week – including Sunday! – the stores are open late so that people can get their shopping done. This is quite a sacrifice – opening past 5 pm here is considered late! All day Sunday, people walked by our place with lots of stuffed designer bags. The stores were packed. Recession? Worst financial crisis in decades? I can’t tell.

My neighbour just walked down the stairs wearing about twice the amount of makeup (in inches) than should be legally allowed.I can still smell her perfume. She was decked out in full evening wear. I don’t know anything about her – but this is not how Greek Christmas circa 2011 is supposed to look.

I have to read the news to remember what’s going on here. Or people tell me from abroad.

We’ve been shuttling between one holiday party after another, both Christmas and Chanukah. Amitai can now single “Jingle Bells” (well, the chorus). He loves the trees and the “red man with the beard”. Tomorrow we’ll celebrate the first night of Chanukah.

I’m not writing this to be sarcastic or facetious. It’s just that my reality is so far removed from what it should be – if the media dictated reality. Because I don’t speak Greek, and the only channels we can watch are international networks, my only other perception of Greek reality is the news. And the news is quite extreme – the hysterical declarations by European leaders, the melodramatic headlines (“Worst Crisis in Europe since World War II”). Maybe it’s a testament to the Greeks’ ability to cope and handle their problems with grace.

The company I work for is organizing a congress in Athens in a few months. My colleagues keep on asking me, “How are things over there?” “Is there violence? “Is it dangerous?”

I live about 15 minutes from the hub of protest activity – Syntagma Square. I’ve seen the protests, and inhaled the tear gas. But that’s about it. I feel I should be experiencing this more! What will I write home about? Where is the despair? The heart-wrenching stories?  I could walk over to some less affluent neighborhood, talk to more store owners, and other “regular people”. But why look for misfortune? We have enough of our own back home.

I sincerely hope things get better for the Greek people.  And may they all celebrate Christmas like in Kolonaki for years to come.



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