Monday, 17 December 2007

Christmas Shopping Online

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. However, in very early times, centuries before this holy child was born, it was the birth of the sungod Mithra, that was celebrated, amongst others by the Greeks, on the 25th of December. Originally it was an Iranian god that fought evil. He won the battle with the holy bull and slaughtering the bull, from its blood grew plants and animals.

In the fourth century BC Mithra and Mithraism became very popular, like with Roman soldiers. Hundreds of years later, when Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, this pagan religion passed into the background. But still this religion has believers and there's even a polemic about the similarities beween Mithra and Jesus. Was Mithra the precursor of Jesus?

Mithra was also born on the 25th of December. His mother was a virgin. Mithra had 12 helpers and just like Jesus he performed miracles. He gave his life for peace on earth, he ascended from his death and like Jesus he was called the Good Shepherd. The question if Jesus was a copy of Mithra I leave up to the theologians. If I've made you curious you will find all about it on the internet.

Two years before Constantine the Great was born, in 270, Saint Nicolas was born in Lycia in present day Turkey. As bishop of Myra he not only did good deeds, but he also fought against pagan religions (like Mithraism), that still had believers in that time. It's said that it was Saint Nicolas who gave orders to destroy the famous Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, a building that was seen at the time as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

If it had been in our time that Saint Nicolas destroyed such a beautiful temple, he would have been called a cultural barbarian. But as we all know, Saint Nicolas finally became one of the most popular Saints of Christianity. In the last century and a half he even got a great alter ego: Santa Claus. (see Lesvos News 102: Saints Claus) Although Saint Nicolas was not born that far away from Lesvos, a real Saint Nicolas celebration (like in Holland) is not known on the island. Here Saint Nicolas is the patron saint of seamen, which gives him enough work to do.

Santa Claus' popularity in Greece however is growing more and more by the year. The celebration of Christmas looks more and more like the American way. The shops bulge with enormous inflatable Santa Clauses and reindeers. The shopping streets of Kaloni with their illuminated Christmas bells, Santa Clauses and reindeer sleighs remind you of the bright lighted streets in New York and all the Christmas dolls, Santa Clauses, Christmas trees and Christmas decorations have pushed everything else from the shop windows.

Houses more and more are decorated with lighted ornaments and even Molyvos, where the shops still open can be counted on the fingers of one hand, looks like an illuminated little city, although it's still Petra that's number one with Christmas decorations. As if this Christmas is truly a celebration of light, that will even make Mithra be honoured.

And we need all that light, because the grey and wet weather of the last months doesn't contribute make you feel that you are in Greece. Above all it is dull. I am not complaining, mind you, because I have got enough to do in the house. But life outside is cold and wet. Last week we didn't even notice that officials were on strike. In Athens life came to a stop, in Molyvos everything continued in its slow way. Even though work at the olive press was stopped for a day. The sacks of olives and the gossiping Greeks around them just waited until the next day.

Last week life also came to a stop in the North of Greece, because of heavy snowfall. Lepetimnos just got a light dusting of snow on its top for a few hours. No real snowfall disturbed life on Lesvos. The only upsets were on Saturday night when a mild earthquake rocked some people out of their sleep and on Sunday evening Santa Claus was shaking hands with the children gathered at the Christmas fair. Christmas with all its shiny lights will make for some more liveliness.

Although that will be only in the kitchen and at the dinner table. Turkey tries more and more to replace the traditional Christmas plate of pork with celery, or goat, on the Greek menu. There are no special side dishes. But the women bake mountains of cookies, like the kourambiedes and melomakaronas. Plenty of them are distributed to the children that knock on the doors to sing their Christmas carols. They use a triangle or a little trombone as accompaniment for their fast sung 'kalanda', which bring peace and luck to the homes. After these good wishes the children are rewarded with candy and cookies. I don't think there's much chance that Greek children will knock on your door, but I won't deprive you of a recipe for a mountain of these delicious kourmabiedes.

Ingredients: 2 kilos plain flour
1 kilo unsalted butter
300 grams icing sugar
300 grams ground roasted almonds
1 small glass cognac
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to medium (175°C). Soften the butter by beating by hand for ½ hour. Add the sugar, cognac, almonds and finally the flour, mixed with the baking soda. Continue to beat until all ingredients are well mixed. Mould into the familiar shapes of the kourambiedes and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle with rosewater, then roll in the icing sugar.

Happy Holidays!

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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