First though, at this special time of year, I'd like to tell you about the first Christmas I spent in Greece.
My first Greek Christmas
I remember feeling quite excited about spending my first Christmas in Greece. Of course, it would be different and I'd miss my family but not having the money to fly back to the UK, I told myself this would be a Christmas to remember. Working in Athens back in 1986, I was particularly looking forward to a few days of peace and quiet on the nearby island of Aegina. Having visited the island during the summer, it had fast become a favourite and when a Greek friend offered us the chance to spend the holiday at his family's villa there, we jumped at the chance.
Not knowing what facilities, if any, would be open on Christmas Day, I packed a bag with a few essentials, and our friend arrived to take us to the port. It was extremely kind of him to do that and to take time away from his own family. The port seemed extremely quiet compared to the last few times we'd sailed but I guessed it was because it was winter and of course Christmas Day. Most people would already be with their families. As we approached the ticket office, however, the real reason became apparent - all sailings were cancelled due to high winds. It was true that the wind was blowing quite strongly, whipping up the waves, yet we hadn't considered the possibility of not being able to travel. To say I felt disappointed was an understatement. It simply felt as if Chritmas had been cancelled and the thought of going back to our tiny 'garconiera' or attic room, which was so small that the bed pulled down from a bookcase, wasn't particularly appealing.
We thanked our friend profusely for his offer and with two small boys waiting for him, guessed he'd be in a hurry to get home. When we asked him to drop us off at our flat, he was absolutely adamant that we would be spending Christmas with his family. He took no notice of our protestations that we would be intruding, nor did he seem concerned about arriving home with a couple of foreigners and in the days before mobile phones, there was no way he could warn his wife in advance. Well, what could we do? We'd been in Greece long enough to appreciate Greek hospitality so we went along, hoping that we wouldn't be in the way.
We needn't have worried. We were made welcome by all the family as our friend explained what had happened. I had no idea what to expect yet we soon exchanging details of how we celebrated in England as our friends described a few Greek customs. We all sat down to eat and I remember a wonderful dish of pasta and beef. It was marvellous to be part of a Greek family during this special time. If it hadn't been for the weather, I wouldn't have these wonderful memories that I've treasured all these years. There really is nothing quite like Greek hospitality and it taught me in turn to extend the hand of friendship to others who might be in need of it.
This year as I sit down to a very British Christmas dinner with my family, I'll be sparing a thought for others less fortunate and setting an extra place for that unknown last minute visitor.