The holiday season is upon us and as with every year, it catches me off guard; How can it be December already? Nevertheless, the excitement of what’s to come eases in. First on the list is picking up our Christmas tree. I absolutely love everything about this experience, from getting bundled up in warm clothing to picking up one of those fancy lattes so I can savor every minute of strolling through what seems to be endless rows of stacked Christmas trees. As the inevitable arguing ensues about which tree is the perfect one, a smile comes to my face as I begin to wonder what makes this season so special for me.
The holiday season begins early for Greeks and progresses at a numbingly fast pace. You begin to think about Christmas even before Thanksgiving when mom ever so discreetly states “the nativity fast is starting this week”. Being of the Greek Orthodox faith, it is customary to observe a period of fasting for 40 days prior to Christmas. The fast requires a strict vegan diet, which in itself is not difficult to do and I rather enjoy the observation, it is more the surprise that the ramp up to Christmas has already begun by November 15.
In addition to the hectic lives we all live with work, school and various activity schedules, Greek tradition requires us to celebrate the numerous religious holidays that occur during the season. Almost all of them are what we call “name day” celebrations. Name day celebrations are equivalent to birthday celebrations. Each day throughout the year, the life of a Saint is celebrated. If your name matches that Saint, you have a celebration! Filling the holiday season with opportunities to celebrate people in our lives who are named after these Saints. For me, these days leading to Christmas offer mini celebrations and build up the anticipation of the holidays.
From Saint Barbara on December 4th and Saint Nicholas on December 6th all the way to the feast day of Saint John on January 7th (yes, celebrations continue well past December 25th!), you find yourself, remembering and reaching out to loved ones in order to wish them a happy name day and a great holiday season. This greatly shapes the holiday season for me; being continuously reminded to think, reminisce and celebrate the people in my life!
As the days furiously move forward, I look forward to all the other “to-do’s” that have become beautiful family traditions; from decorating the home to baking an endless assortment of Greek cookies that are a must for Christmas (kourabiedes, melomakarona). At times the “to-do” list gets a bit overwhelming, maybe even more so when you try to balance the two beautiful cultures that I associate with: American & Greek.
Ultimately what I have realized is that along with the endless list of holiday “to-do’s” comes the multitude of memories and traditions we create. Whether it be the new ones we create or recalling memories from the past, enjoying each blessed moment we have with the people we love is the essence of the holidays!
From our family to yours, may you have a fun and safe holiday season, filled with health, peace & love.