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Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The melancholy of Summer Christmas

Growing up in Greece and only leaving when I was 23, all my Christmases were “white” (well, sort of but close enough) being cold (best excuse to wear scarves and gloves and new boots), smelling of hot chocolate and kourampiedes (the most delicious cookie EVER!), and listening to carols in every corner (I would have made it romantic and talk about the cracking of the wood in the fireplace, but let’s be realistic here).

Since 2007 that I left, I have only returned in December twice – so the last decade, my Christmases have turned “blue”- like the blue skies, the blue water of the ocean (or the swimming pool), and the blue of my swimming costume. My Christmases now smell of watermelon and sunscreen lotion, sound like the coal in the braai and taste like ice cream three times a day.

There has not been one single year that someone (from Greece or the rest of Europe has not commented in one of my summer December photos in social media something like “oh how different”, “brrr we are cold here, you lucky”. Deep inside, I know what they think “…but can you feel the Christmas spirit in your swimming suit? Wouldn’t you rather be in front of a fireplace playing board games in your pyjamas and thick clothes?”.

That got me wondering.. do I miss something? That nostalgia of summer Christmas has its roots in the weather or something deeper? Coming from a family of separated parents since I was five, the feeling of something or more specifically someone missing around the Christmas table was always there: spending the day with my dad and his side of the family, I would miss my mum and her side of the family– and vice versa. In a sense, I have come to terms that this feeling would accompany my Christmases for life. Only with my move to South Africa and having my own family, I thought it would go away. When I was 3 months pregnant with my bigboy, we went on a trip at the ocean with friends during the festive season. I remember myself in tears that afternoon (maybe hormones made it a bit worse than what it was)  - I was missing my family in Greece AND my family in South Africa (back in Pretoria both Greeks and In-law families).

After all these years though, I have come to term with that trade-off too: spending Christmas in South Africa, I will miss Greece – spending Christmas in Greece, I will miss South Africa. Isn’t this the conundrum all immigrants put themselves into? We live with that every day of our lives “what if I was there today?”…

A relative told me today they are trying to be happy with what and whom they have around them and not with the ones missing. Brave and sober thought – what do you do with emotions then?
I went on a journey to define “family” inside me so that I sort out the feelings of nostalgia. My “family” are my three men. I cannot imagine Christmas (or anything else) without them. I cannot imagine myself not being there when the boys run in the morning to see if Santa Claus came in the night – or the laughs around the table – or the babyboy trying to convince us he heard Santa Claus’ laughing HO HO HO as he was flying off…. However, family are also so many people in my life that have been added through the years and their absence around the Christmas table is felt year after year.

What do I do with that feeling? Well, that is why we like traditions – by keeping traditions alive, we bring memories back – we keep them alive – we make people that are far away come closer and celebrate with them. Singing Christmas carols to all our loved ones in Greece (even through a video call) keeps the memories of knocking on door after door when we were kids singing the same carols. Passing these traditions to our kids is what we can do to keep that Christmas spirit alive and make the magic exist in our hearts for ever. We carry our traditions and our people inside us.

If not our ALL loved ones were around the same table physically today – in another country, in another city, in another neighbourhood or closer to the angels, I choose to believe they were indeed  there in spirit, because we brought them with our thoughts, love, traditions and the magic of Christmas. Because we carry them in who we are.

Everyone was there wearing their boots and scarves or their swimming costumes and sunglasses, and eating hot chestnuts or watermelon.