Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas houses

Saturday & Sunday in December, 2016.

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the fiiire is sooo delightful...

...I sang.. in the absence of above mentioned fire, as I was squeezing my bike in the elevator on that chilly Saturday morning. This was our weekend to promote the Youth Center on the main square of the city. As I parked my bike near the colourful line of so-called „Christmas houses“ on the square, I glanced around hoping to see a crowd but instead everything was still peaceful. Volunteers who were setting up the place welcomed me with smiling faces that could warm up the coldest winder day and soon I had a pair of antlers on my head (which I enjoyed very much, to be honest).

A variety of colourful fabric was spread out on the table and soon there were more or less recognizable shapes of animals cut out, stuffed with even more fabric and came to life as they got their little round eyes. The other side of the table was filled with paper. Children cut out shapes of their hands on which they wrote their wishes and attached them on the side of our house to form a christmas tree. (At some point during the next day the „branches“ just got wild and the tree lost its shape as it had to accommodate soo many wonderful wishes!) A small table on the side was reserved for face-painting. I'm still having a hard time believing that nothing had spilled during those two days., at least not that I have seen.

Saturday passed peacefully, we were able to talk with people in a more relaxed manner and I don't think anyone felt especially tired at the end of the event. Sunday was a completely different story. The sun was out, as were all the people in Kalamata, it seemed. We started a bit later but the christmas spirit was more evident than ever. Hot cups of coffee were handed around as Santa's little helpers (as someone called us) set up the place. It felt like people were instantly attracted by our colourful carol-singing antler-adorned bunch. Our hands were full as children crowded around the tables. At first it was fun and sweet but soon I was drawing a snowflake on one child's face, another was trying to tell me what he wants in greek, two on the side arguing who gets to go first, a bunch behind me pushing me from the back... Still, it was impossible to get annoyed with those smiling little faces around. 

As my shift reached its end long ago, I hurried home, barely able to cycle through the crowd (on the bike path, yes, because, Greece), the sun still high. And thus, our busy christmassy weekend was reaching its end.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Magic of Welsh Poetry: A Child’s Christmas in Wales

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six...

These enchanting words are the opening lines of a long poem titled “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”.  The poem was written in 1952 by Dylan Thomas, a famous Welsh poet.  Dylan Thomas grew up in a small city called Swansea, in the Southern part of Wales, in the United Kingdom.  It tells the story a Christmas in the past from the perspective of a young boy. The festive time is remembered in a romantic way, as full of life and magic.
The poem is known all over Wales and the UK and has been used in schools, theatre plays, stories and even short animations.  The poem tells the story of one night where there is a fire in a neighbour’s house. This is followed by a boy telling another boy about his memories of old Christmases. Images of snow, the sea, wolves and bears, singing and music, smells and tastes are all conjured up. Local characters come in and events unfold, family members interact and presents are unwrapped.

It is popular because it shows us a Christmas from another time, a Christmas that is simpler and different to the one we celebrate today.  Dylan Thomas was born in 1914. So if some of these ideas come from a festive period he remembered as a boy, they would have been happening nearly 100 years ago. In the story we hear about sitting in front of the fire, drinking parsnip wine (parsnip is a root vegetable common in the UK) and about uncles singing and playing the fiddle (the fiddle is an instrument similar to the violin).

For many people in the UK this is very different to the way we experience Christmas now. Today Christmas is often orientated around buying many presents, consuming a lot of food and alcohol and watching television.  Of course these are all enjoyable things! However they are not so similar to the old-fashioned, simpler Christmases that our grandparents would have appreciated.
On the other hand, many people enjoy the poem because we can see the links between the “older” Christmas traditions and the same traditions that are celebrated now. For example, we still spend time together as a family, we still play games, eat turkey at dinner and exchange presents.

Another reason for the poem’s popularity is that it is written from the point of view of a child, and this is why there is a sense of magic. Christmas for a child is always unique and this feeling really comes across in the poem.

For me, I love this poem because I also grew up by the sea in Wales. When I read it it makes me feel close to my home and to the countryside. It reminds me of the specialness of being a child during the festive season, when everything seems magical.

--- So if you’re interested check out this wonderful poem! You can find it online here: