Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Writer
Living in Greece

January 2014

It’s happened again: another year is here, creeping up on us when we least expected it, when we’d hardly finished dealing with the last one. Some people I know are relieved, not having been entirely happy with the notion of 2013. 2014, they say, has a much better ring to it. Well, here’s hoping they’re right, and here’s hoping for good things to happen to all people. (So many bad things seem to happen to good people, let’s face it.)

Christmas now seems well in the past, with Greek customs clashing with Anglo-Australian ones in my crowded memory. Children here still roam the streets and call on selected houses in order to sing Ta Kalanda, the carol that informs the waiting Greek world that Saint Basil is on his way from Caesarea. New Year’s Day is the Feast Day of Saint Basil, and the day on which Greek children expect presents, rather than on Christmas Day. It is also the day on which Greeks cut the vasilopita, St Basil’s cake, in which a lucky coin lurks.

When I was first here in Greece, the so-called Festive Season seemed anything but. It was grey and cold, for one thing, and that has not changed. Obviously. (I still think, round about June, when the weather is hot, that it must be Christmas-time.) Everything was very low-key, and pine branches were hard to find, while the present/toy scene for children was a stereotyped disaster: for boys, you could buy guns, and/or cars, for girls, dolls, and that was it. Of course all that changed long ago.

These days memory calls insistently from my Australian childhood: my sister and I would get up from our camp stretchers, for we spent our first Christmases by a river in North-Eastern Victoria, in order to examine the modest contents of the pillowslips that had been left out very hopefully the evening before. We had also left out a glass of lemon cordial and a hefty slice of Christmas cake for the longed-for nocturnal bearer of gifts. I’ve occasionally wondered whether our patient parents shared these goodies, or whether Dad scoffed the lot. Somewhat later, our much younger brother was photographed in his present of a cowboy suit: fringed chaps, holsters, Stetson hat, cap guns and all. He was six.

Back to now, or almost now. Last week I re-read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for the umpteenth time, and was not surprised to find that I still love it, all these years on from discovering a well-worn copy of said work in a dusty cupboard during the hot Victorian Christmas holidays. In the strange gap between Christmas and the New Year, that fag-end of the old year, the first ritual requirement is the purchase of a new diary, so I’ve done that, too: somewhat amazingly, given my tendency to procrastinate. But I have ambivalent feelings, always, about a new diary: I like the feel of the soft cover ( I always buy the same sort ) and admire the way a little serrated corner of each page can come off, so that your thumb knows exactly where it is in the matter of time and recording.

But all those blank pages! It must be said that I view them with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. I know people who do not keep diaries, but favour wall calendars instead. And they actually cross the days off! Something I cannot bear to do, although I recall I used to do it at exam time, as I struggled through those days of ordeal, and wondered whether they were ever going to end. But never since.

The waiting diary reminds me of Candles, the beautiful and sobering poem by great Greek poet Konstantine Kavafis. In this work candles symbolise days: Kavafis sees the future as a row of lit candles, golden, warm, living candles. The past, on the other hand, is a sad line of tapers that have been snuffed out: they are cold, melted and twisted. He does not want to look back at this line of dead candles; nor does he want to think about how quickly those ones increase in number. Well, nobody does, even if we cannot express ourselves as eloquently.

As is to be expected, writers in general wax eloquent on the subject of the New Year. Mark Twain mentioned ‘humbug resolutions,’ and went on to say that ‘New Year’s Day is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving Hell with them as usual.’

Oprah Winfrey has hopefully remarked that the New Year is another chance to get it right. Charles Lamb considered that nobody ever regarded the First of January with indifference. And I would say that is very true.

But let the mighty T.S. Eliot, in Little Gidding, have the last word:

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice,

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

Gillian Bouras

 

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