DecemberJanuary: here and there
Temperature today: 23C rising to 38 in four days time.
Australia is a very large continent, and there are many different climates. There can be floods in Queensland, fires around Sydney, and here in the south we might be having hail, all on the same day. And in fact that did happened last month. Also, although many nationalities make up the population, and there are many different celebrations, so many are from Europe with a Christian heritage Christmas is very important. Probably more so as a family celebration than a Christian one.
Christmas starts in the shops on November 1st when people start looking for good Christmas buys, and magazines begin to fill with articles on what to buy for him, for her, for the kids and so on. There are also articles on how to make your own decorations, on how to roast a turkey, and what to wear to a party – with the emphasis on the expectation of hot weather. So BBQ’s are favoured, and sundresses are light.
An Australian (Melbourne) Garden in December
A Xmas quote that was up for discussion in the writing group I go to.
‘I do like Christmas on the whole…In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year.’ E.M.Forster
Our xmas tree this year
You may also have read this quotation, so true!
‘There are three stages of a man’s life: He believes in Santa Claus, he doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, he is Santa Claus.’ Author Unknown.
Takis will probably once again dress up as Santa Claus at the party given by his daughters and including his grandchildren.
Granddaughters opening presents
And then, in Australia, after all the eating and feasting the country enjoys a long summer holiday, with families leaving the city for the beaches, often staying there until it is time for children to go back to school in February.
December/January in LemnosTemperature today: 10C staying the same for the next four days.
December can get some early snow falls, though January is more likely to get snow and rain and may be very windy. I have some wonderful pictures, taken by a neighbour, of our house with snow-drifts half way up the door frames. On snowy days such as these the schools are closed. And Anestis has told us there are days when it is so windy he can't ride his bike, or even step outside the house. However this extreme weather quickly moves on, and though it might be windy or cold it is often sunny in winter in Lemnos.
My Lemnian Garden after a light fall of snow
One year we visited Athens in January and we were privileged to attend a New Year party with relatives and friends. That was quite some time ago, just before the Greek Olympics, and at the time we were still wondering whether we would commit to a great big renovation project in Greece.
It all began with a watermelon
That New Year’s night we sat with the family and their friends in this penthouse, around a table laden with all kinds of Greek delights – dips like tzatziki and taramasalata, main dishes like lamb fricassee and braised beef with lemon, followed by various honeyed sweets and a Christmas pudding. Yes, Christmas pudding was there too! It appeared the owner’s mother was from England and had kept this English tradition going.
At midnight, from the balcony we watched fireworks sparkle above the city and all around the Parthenon. The display was more lavish than usual, celebrating the handing over of the city to a new mayor, a woman who would guide the city through the Olympics. And, we speculated, perhaps into a new era? Takis said he thought this was a shrewd move on the part of the city councillors in case anything went wrong with the Games. I countered that the choice probably had as much to do with the fact that a woman might be able to bypass male pride and the tortuous deals whereby messon (insider help) was sought and given to get a job done. I was fast learning that this was the usual style of allocating contracts in Greece, since contracts weren’t given to the contractors who gave the best (in all senses of the term) quotes, rather they were awarded to friends or to contractors who gave ‘donations’ to city councillors.
This was such a well-known practice that it was openly talked about around the table, with those present indicating that not only at the top but at every aspect of business a similar approach prevailed. My heart sank when I heard this. How could we consider doing business here?’
A picture of me at Marina Port, rugged up for winter
After the party we went to Lemnos for a short visit though at that time I had yet to learn about the local Christmas/New Year traditions. It was a few years later that my neighbour Vetta invited me to go with her to see her old home in the hills behind our house. It was a mild September day and a beautiful walk, though the hills were still dry as the rains had not yet arrived. We walked to a little stone hut high on a hillside where Vetta, her two sisters and brother had been raised. Nowadays this structure is only used by the sheep, but at that other time her mother grew flowers and basil in the small forecourt.
Behind the hut was another structure that I was very interested to see. It was here that three little pigs were housed. Every week I had to save any stale bread we had for Vetta and she then passed the bag of stale bread on to her brother to feed to his pigs. It was fun to see these happy and inquisitive porkers, though a bit worrying to know that they were being fattened up for New Year chops.
Three little pigs
Christmas is not as important as Easter in Greece. Easter is when folks give presents and prepare a great feast. But on the day after Christmas there is a tradition on the island (and maybe in other places in Greece) of slaughtering the family pig and then preparing every part of it for winter food, and especially for the coming New Year feast.
I later read in a Lemian cookery book (written by another neighbour and my good friend Ourania) that in the past the meat was salted and fried in its own fat, then preserved in big earthenware pots. This preserved meat is called kavurmas. The fat is cut into small strips and preserved in the same way. The intestines are filled with minced meat to make sausages. It seems that even the bones were salted and later used in stews with pulses, potatoes and vegetables. The head too was used to make pork jelly, and even the skin was dried to make the farmer’s shoes.
Books about food traditionsThe English edition of Ourania's book about the traditional way of preparing food in Lemnos is now out of print. However there are still some of the Greek edition on sale on the island of Lemnos.
Tom Stone, The Summer of my Greek Taverna (Simon and Shuster, 2003). This is the story of an American who moved to Greece, and lived there for 22 years. He describes some of the Greek characters he got to know and includes a lot about his cooking experiences, plus recipes. He has also written Greek dictionaries and phrase books.
Wishing you a Happy Christmas, and all the very best in 2014