Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

December 2011

I have a problem with time, and with the inexorable march of. Like the White Rabbit, I’m always late, late for various important dates. (And this piece is overdue: no surprises there, then.)

So it’s that time again, a fact that is scarcely to be believed. Of course time gathers speed as one ages, so that Christmas, as well as one’s birthday, now seems to occur every six months. That’s my experience, anyway, although said time is such a peculiar concept and commodity that it seems only a few years since I went rummaging through an old wardrobe in our very modest holiday house on the south-west coast of Victoria. The cupboard was in my grandparents’ room, and housed a variety of what they considered junk. In fact the stereo-optic photos, if that’s the word, which it probably isn’t, plus the two viewers, would fetch quite a lot of money in today’s antique shops.

Also there were some ageing books and piles of The Saturday Evening Post, a famous American magazine to which Grandfather subscribed, for reasons that remain obscure to me. On a very hot day, I put my hand into this motley collection and drew out a battered copy of A Christmas Carol. It was my first taste of Dickens, and the start of a life-long addiction. I was eight.

I wonder what today’s eight-year-olds would make of this novel, which I found gripping in the extreme. Scrooge himself, and Marley’s ghost with its clanking chain, haunted my dreams for a long time. Not to mention the ideas of Past, Present and Future as (more or less) embodied in the eponymous Ghosts. But I was born pre-TV, when the imagination was a picture-making facility that most people carried around with them but took for granted. Occasionally they gave that part of themselves both a rest and a boost by going to the picture theatre.

A digression: the first film I ever saw was ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ and that reference really dates me. But I am pleased to report that Gene Kelly’s dance sequence, umbrella in hand, is still utterly brilliant. And it is interesting to note that the film is limited to a 24-hour loan period at the Kalamata video/DVD club.

Back to the all-important matter of Christmas. Once it was a simple, straightforward affair, with emphasis on the simple.  There were rituals that included Carols by Candlelight, morning church, Christmas dinner, the tree. Little children, the fortunate ones, were visited by Father Christmas. (Just recently my elder grandson, as lofty and as patronising as only a Greek five-year-old male can be, said reprovingly, ‘You’d find it easier to say Santa Claus, Yiayia.’ But of course I don’t.)

Fortunate children hung out their pillowslips in hope, and were never disappointed. But expectations were more modest then, and the availability of toys rather limited. There was always a book or two, a jigsaw puzzle, perhaps some colouring pencils, and always a bought Christmas stocking, which was always red, had red net stretched over it, red shredded paper spilling out of it, and which contained  a packet of crayons, make-believe kitchen utensils, and a little bag of poisonous looking lollies that resembled nothing so much as ammunition for a pea-shooter, or a variation on the fruit of the ubiquitous pepper corn tree.

An American journalist has recently written a piece that will strike many a chord, so to speak. He says he loves Christmas, but hates the Christmas season, with canned Christmas music reserved for his particular loathing. As a young man trying to make some pocket money, he had to stand at one point, and one point only, in the shop where he worked. Above his head was a speaker that drilled such music relentlessly into his skull for hours at a time. He never wants to hear Jingle Bells again: how well one understands.

Yes, the Christmas season is now a long commercial bunfight and preparation for a foodie noshup and the party round. Humbug, in fact, in more ways than Scrooge ever dreamed of. Even Greece has been corrupted. Despite the fact that Easter is the Feast of Feasts in the Orthodox calendar, commercial pressures have seen to it that shops now sell tawdry trinkets, otherwise known as Christmas decorations, and the TV advertisers remind the viewing population that there are X number of days to go.

From this little diatribe, you may deduce that I am not at all organised for this time of the year. It’s my own little rebellion, as I sigh for the misty Ghost of Christmas Past. But I can still say, along with Tiny Tim: God bless us, every one.

Gillian Bouras

 

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