By Ilias Karagiannis
A word, a picture, a voice from the past can lift waves of memories like a loud gust of air. Memories of the past overwhelm your existence, especially when Christmas approaches.
Traditionally, they are periods of reviews and new goals that keep you afloat like a plank keeps afloat the castaway. Joy and sadness dance passionately within you, especially if you are far from the place where you grew up.
Your roots, which even in difficult times are the ones that keep you strong in the face of life’s difficulties.
This strange Christmas of 2021, where the pandemic remains an invisible threat and continues to undermine our joy, The Greek Herald wanted to talk with two Greek Australians, who live permanently in Athens and to reminisce with them the Christmas of their childhood.
Author Arthur Antonopoulos and Vice President of the Australian Parthenon Committee, Elly Symons. Both grew up in Melbourne and now live in Athens.
They will spend the festive days of 2021 in Greece.
Their memories of those days will be familiar to most of our readers as well. A piece of pure joy…
“What we ask for at Christmas is to return to our childhood”
Games, walks on the beach, cricket, songs, childhood years in Clayton. These were the ingredients of happiness for author, Arthur Antonopoulos, who recently made his literary debut with the book “Dark Athens”.
Arthur spoke to The Greek Herald about the Christmas season and his childhood memories of Melbourne.
“Christmas in Melbourne has always meant three things to me. Walks on the beach of St Kilda, a nice gift from our parents (we shared it with my brother) and cricket on the streets of our neighborhood.
“The beaches in Melbourne do not compare with those in Greece. The sea was clean but there was no ‘beach culture’, ie sunbeds everywhere, beach bars with music and panic from people.
“One of the most favourite gifts I remember receiving, was a black tape recorder with 2 slots. To us it meant only one thing. We could copy music and make mix-tapes!
“The team cricket games on the streets of my neighbourhood, Clayton, are also one of the coolest memories I have from my childhood. We were gathering together and we were almost all children of immigrants. My best friend was from Sri Lanka, others from Vietnam, Italy, Poland, Mauritania, etc. We were united by the game and Dean Jones”, says Arthur Antonopoulos.
From the Christmas heatwave in Melbourne, the Greek-Australian has arrived in the mother land, where the cold, as he says, is … “bitter”.
“No matter how many years pass, the snow and the cold weather during Christmas is something that I can not easily accept. I have associated this day with heat and picnics on the beach or the countryside. Oh, and definitely ice cream!
“In Gortynia, where dad comes from, I first heard the word “tsouhteros – potty”. It was so cold on my first Christmas in Greece. But I don’t mind it anymore because I have found the solution and I return to Melbourne at Christmas to celebrate it under the right circumstances”, he tells us laughing.
Today, if he could have the choice of where he would prefer to spend his Christmas where would it be?
“Without a doubt, Christmas in Melbourne is my best. This of course does not mean that Christmas in Athens is not equally beautiful-especially in the centre!
“To me Christmas means family and coziness. Anywhere on earth I can combine these two, I will gladly go…
“As long as I have a radio together to listen to cricket matches! I would like on this occasion to wish Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to everyone in Greece and the Greek Australian community”.
“The real meaning of Christmas is to be with your loved ones”
One of the most well-known personalities of the Greek community in Australia is Elly Symons. For the last two years she lives in Athens, the “neighborhood of the Gods”, Plaka and last year she spent her first Christmas in the Greek capital.
What did she think?
“I’ve lived in Melbourne all my life. My second Christmas away from Melbourne was that of 2020 in Athens. In lockdown, so it was pretty tough.
“What struck me was the passion of the Greeks for ornaments.
“So I found that for Greeks, Christmas is a very happy period. It’s a family celebration and it’s all about giving. To share love and celebrate with your loved ones” she tells The Greek Herald, in a small cafe in Plaka where we met in order for Elly to begin to unravel the Christmas tangle of memories.
Elly Symons talks about the impression made on many Greeks by the fact that Christmas in Australia is a: “summer holiday. So one thing my Greek friends were asking me last year was, ‘Do you have a good Christmas on the beach?’
“They couldn’t grasp that in Australia Christmas is in summer,” she said and started unfolding her childhood memories.
“On Christmas Eve we used to catch up with our friends and neighbours. The older ones would have alcohol while the little ones were eager for the next day to dawn to discover their gifts under the Christmas tree.
“On Christmas Day, some families went to church and I remember at noon big gatherings in family homes. 20 to 30 people gathered and there was a lot of Greek food.
“I remember my grandmother’s ‘pastitsio’, my mom would make oven baked eggplants. On the table there was necessarily tzatziki. Of course, we always had turkey while I remember my dad roasting crayfish and prawns. It was a multicultural table,” says Ellie and laughs at the childhood memories that overwhelm her again in our conversation.
But where would she want to be if she had the choice?
“The real meaning of Christmas is to be with the people you love. But if you can’t for some reason be with your own people on Christmas Day, then the best thing to do is help someone in need.
“What we celebrate at Christmas is the joy of giving and the appreciation of what we have. We must understand that Christmas is not for everyone a joyful holiday. There is loneliness in the world and suffering, and so we could try to offer a helping hand to some people.
This year Ellie will spend Christmas for the second year in a row in Athens.
“I don’t miss Melbourne per se. I don’t care what country I spend Christmas in. What I miss is my kids and my family. My loved ones,” she said.