Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

In Greece, they say "Kala Christougenna," which means literally "Good Christmas." "Merry Christmas" is thus a great translation. As with all the many Greek wishes that go "Good [something]," this is a shorthanded way of saying "May you/we have a good Christmas." For that reason, Greeks only say this until the feast day itself. From Christmas day on, they say "Chronia polla" or something similar.

Greece's prime minister, George Papandreou, a Greek-American for whom Greek is a second language, received a good deal of ribbing in Greece and on YouTube for wishing the nation "Kali Anastasi" ("May you have a good Resurrection") after the Resurrection service early Easter Sunday morning. (Just for fun, check out this other video of Papandreou during Holy Week.) "Chronia polla," by the way, is used on all feast days and means literally, "Many years," or, again in shorthand, "May you/we celebrate this for many years to come."

I recently became interested in the origin of the expression "Christ is born!" after hearing and reading for some time (such as in this article) that this is "the standard greeting in Orthodox countries." Having never heard it here in Greece, I began to wonder from whence it came. I originally assumed Russia, as I usually do when I'm not sure (since I don't know all that much about the Russian tradition). But Russian friends recently told me that they'd never heard of it. They suspected, though, that it originated in Serbia. A Serbian friend confirmed this for me.

Presumably, this developed by analogy from the Pascha (Easter) greeting "Christ is risen!" My friend told me the response is even the same "Truly He is born!" -- just as "Truly He is risen!" I'm curious now if this or something else unique is used anywhere else, say in Romania.

We American converts, I have noticed, having generally been deprived of such rich Christian customs and traditions within our own culture, usually seem to take a "maximalist" approach to them, i.e. we adopt the most pious traditions we find in each Orthodox culture, thus forming our own American "melting pot" of such traditions.

Anyway, the babies' big present this year was a loft/fort in our living room, designed and made by Pres. Pelagia. We put it up on Christmas Eve and they saw it for the first time on Christmas morning. They loved it and started climbing up and down it immediately. Their favorite game is bombing pillows down on those below. Above, you can see Paul already on top, with Phoebe (brown) and Benjamin (green) close behind.

In Greece, the tradition is to celebrate the Liturgy for the feast early in the morning, starting either at 5 or 6 and lasting until 9 or 10. The monasteries and some parishes also celebrate it as a vigil ending around 2 AM. In our parish in Panorama, we ended around 10 AM and then we hung out at the house the rest of the day. We had a big lunch with our neighbors, the Lillies. Afterwards, Angela and her daughter Myrna stopped by, as well as our friend Paris with his nephew, Petros. The babies got lots of clothes, toy cars, and a few musical instruments. You can see the chaos in our living room in the photo above.

The little drummer boy Paul tries out his new drum with his godfather.

Paris with his nephew Petros and his godson Paul, who celebrate their name day together on June 29.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Monastery of St. Anastasia

Last Wednesday, December 22, we began the day by celebrating the Divine Liturgy for St. Anastasia the Deliverer from Potions here at our parish in Panorama.

In the afternoon, our friend Michael Tishel came up with three visitors from the U.S. and we went, with the babies, to visit two monasteries. We first stopped at the Monastery of St. John the Evangelist to venerate the grave of Elder Paisios. In the photo above, you can see Michael's friend Alexis at the grave, with Paul and Phoebe.

Since it was her feast day, we then drove over to the monastery dedicated to St. Anastasia, which lies about 40 minutes outside Thessaloniki to the east. The monastery is impressive on several counts. First, it was founded in 888 by the Byzantine empress and saint Theophano. Second, it bears the weighty title, in true Byzantine style, of "The Royal, Patriarchal, and Stavropegic Monastery..." (and there might be another one, but I can't remember at the moment. Third, it's quite large. It used to serve, until perhaps 20 or 30 years ago, as a major ecclesiastical high school. (In Greece and at least some other Orthodox countries such as Russia and Serbia, it is common for those training to serve the church in some way to attend a high school especially geared toward ecclesiastical studies, which are quite rigorous by U.S. standards. It is therefore not uncommon for these high school graduates to be more conversant in theology than seminary graduates with Master's degrees in the U.S.)

Despite the monastery's grandeur, though, sadly, it now has only two or three monks responsible for keeping it up. Nevertheless, since it was the monastery's feast day, there was quite a crowd of pilgrims for the Vespers service, the end of which we managed to catch. (In Greece, it is a tradition for a parish or monastery celebrating its feast day to celebrate a Festal Vespers not only the evening before, but also on the day of, possibly as a sort of apodosis.) We even ran into our friend Nektarios Antoniou, the chanter.

As the people filed out after the conclusion of Vespers, the babies got a chance to explore the church a bit. Above, they're climbing through a little table in the middle of the nave. We also had a chance to venerate the skull of St. Anastasia, as well as other relics the monastery preserves.

Here are Michael and Benjamin walking down the stairs, leaving the church.

Here are Alexis and Paul as we walked out the entrance to the monastery and headed back to the car.

For more photos, click here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

A week before Christmas, we took the babies to Kalliopi's house to make gingerbread houses. This is not a Greek tradition, so we had to collaborate with our fellow American Justin in order to figure out how to do it correctly. Apparently, gingerbread came to Europe somewhere around the 11th century, and the making of houses dates to about the 17th century. The custom seems to exist primarily in Germany, England, Scandinavia, and the U.S.

Above, Kalliopi's sister Julie holds Paul as Kalliopi and Pelagia lay the foundation for the house.

Here, Kalliopi's using a hair dryer to speed up the drying process.

Kalliopi's mom, Chrysoula, fed the babies chocolate cake as they played.

Chrysoula with Phoebe as we got ready to leave.

Kalliopi and her nephew Alexis put the finishing touches on the house's sidewalk.

For a few more photos, click here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Babies Hit the Christmas Fair

Here's a photo of Paul playing in the yard on Thursday -- with a bucket on his head. For some reason, he thinks it's fun to walk around like this. Until Thursday, we've been enjoying beautiful, sunny weather in the 60s. On Friday, though, winter began. The temperature dropped precipitously to highs in the 40s, and shows no sign of going back from here.

The change in weather means trying to find more things for the babies to do that are inside. Unfortunately, there aren't nearly as many options. On Friday, we took the babies to walk around inside the mall. In the photo above, you can just make out Pelagia and the babies on the other side of the colorful water fountain display.

On Saturday, we went with Paul's godfather, Paris, to a sort of Christmas fair down at the Expo Center in Thessaloniki. We met our friend Angela and her daughter Myrna there, as well as our friend Justin and his son Michael, who is just four months older than our babies. In the photo above, you can see me with Paul (red) and Benjamin (blue) on the carousel. Pelagia is in the background with Phoebe, helping her ride a horse.

The babies all got their faces painted, too. The biggest wigglers, Paul and Phoebe, got simple designs -- Paul a star and Phoebe a snowflake. Benjamin, however, got a very nice snowman.

The babies particularly enjoyed the toy store, which features some nice wooden toys. In the photo above, Paul and Michael were playing on a drum set, complete with top hat.

They also went to some arts & crafts stations were they got to color and (above) play with clay. Paul made a nice ball of clay and then tried to eat it.

For a few more photos, click here.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Babies at Play

This morning at church, I saw my friend Fr. Panayiotis' wife, Presvytera Despoina, and she mentioned to me that she was eager to see more photos of the babies on the blog. I imagine the grandparents need a "fix" too, so here are some photos from the last two weeks of the babies playing around town.

The weather has been surprisingly warm, so we've been able to be outside quite a bit. In the photo above, we took the babies to a nice new park just down the hill from us in a new section of Panorama called the "nomos." Paul is the biggest climber of the three, and here he managed to climb the rope net up to the top.

Benjamin is honing his skills with utensils and thus really likes feeding himself. Here he's enjoying some delicious Greek yogurt.

One day, we took the babies to a store here in Panorama where they have all sorts of games and activities for the kids. Usually these places require the kids to be 3 or 4, but since there was no one else there at the time we went, they let the babies in. Although usually their staff play with the babies while the parents can sit and have a coffee, they let Pelagia come into the play area so that the babies wouldn't be so shy about using the toys, such as this huge slide. Here you can see Pelagia at the top, and that blur is Phoebe coming down the slide. To the right, you can see Paul climbing up to the top for his turn.