Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Christmas greetings, wherever you are.

Well, Delia's ham is in the oven ready for glazing, Mr Grigg's making sweets and James Bond is on the telly.

Across the road, the church candles will soon need lighting for Midnight Mass as the village pub fills up on Christmas Eve.

We've had the church carol service - a great success - the fish and chip van had a bumper evening last night and the tills have been ringing at the community shop all day.

Personally, it's been an amazing year, with unexpected travels and new opportunities turning up left, right and centre.

I'm not quite sure how this blog - or my life - will rattle along in 2015 but I will be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, a merry Christmas to you and yours and a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

Remember, if you wanna do it, do it. If you don't, don't.

I was asked to write something to read out at the carol service on Sunday. So I turned to my journal from two years ago when I was home alone in Corfu with Mr Grigg.

Enjoy what you have, when you have it and where you have it. Seek out new challenges and interesting things. But remember, the grass is never greener. It's just a just a different shade.
A Greek Christmas

There was a chill in the air, as if the wind was blowing from the Russian Steppes or the Caucasus or wherever cold weather came from at this time of year. Piles of logs were stacked outside people’s houses and, in the afternoons, smoke rose from the chimneys as fires were lit inside. Those who visit Corfu only in the summer season would never believe how cold, damp and wet it is in winter. There is a reason why the island is so green.

We had been in Corfu for two months and, despite the beauty and magic of the place, I couldn’t get Dorset out of my head. There was a real ache in my bones and in my heart, in my whole being. I loved the Greek countryside but I longed to see the lush, slushy fields back home and walk through them with my grand-daughter. I really hadn’t thought I was going to feel like this and I was cross with myself for feeling so homesick. Here I was, doing something others would give an arm and a leg to do, living the dream, in a country where people were suffering, really suffering, and I felt sorry for myself because I didn’t want to be here.

It’s strange being in a foreign land at this time of year, especially when the native tongue is so hard to understand. I felt detached. I couldn’t understand the overheard conversations going on around me. For one of life’s eavesdroppers, I was lost. Any Christmas spirit in the air was going over my head. My modus operandi is usually ‘listen and observe’. My lack of Greek meant I could do only the latter.

Christmas, for me, is about family and friends and getting together in joyful fashion, giving and receiving. So, on the shortest day, we hosted a party for our new neighbours and friends. We had no idea how many people were coming and at what time, because my husband couldn’t remember if he’d told them two o’clock or four. By the end of the previous day, we’d prepared most of the menu: sausage rolls, stuffed dates, red pepper hummus, red cabbage coleslaw, mince pies, Christmas cake, kourambiedes biscuits and melamakarona cakes, pavlova, crisps, nuts, cheese, coronation chicken, devils on horseback, salami and prosciutto on pumpernickel, smoked salmon and horseradish, and melba toast and little tartlets filled with ratatouille.

The day dawned with a glorious burst of sunshine as we prepared our home for the party. House cleaned, food on the table, glad rags on, at one minute to two we were ready. Which as just as well because, at one minute past two, the doorbell rang, Betty and Antoni and their three-year-old daughter, Marie-Angela. Kisses. Doorbell rings. Labi. Kisses. Doorbell. Ilia, Koula and Little Ilia, aged six. A little later on, Gorgeous George and the serene Mrs George arrive, and then Yanni Pianni, flustered but here, after a busy lunchtime in the family taverna, and armed with a jar of preserved oranges made by his mother. 

All the Greeks were bearing gifts: copious bottles of wine, a large azalea and a present we were allowed to open only at New Year. They didn’t have much, these people, but we were discovered their generosity and hospitality was endless. There is a word in Greek – filoxenia – which means love, kindness and hospitality to foreigners, to strangers. 

That day, we grasped the concept of filoxenia first hand, by giving it and receiving it ourselves. 

The men went outside to smoke and then came back in to teach my husband how to play cards, dealing, as they always do in Greece, to the left. The children amused themselves with pencils and paper and the women nattered in gunfire-fast Greek to anyone who would listen. They wolfed down everything on the table, including my coronation chicken, made to a recipe by a retired chef from my Dorset village for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. 

And then, a few hours later, as quickly as they arrived, they went, one after another. The place was quiet now but there was an energy to the house I had not experienced before.

It had been a good day. The Christmas spirit had entered our home. And from that point on, I vowed, I’d live in the moment, lucky indeed to be living the dream and experiencing the power of filoxenia.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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