Christmas, usually a sedate occasion in Crete, arrived in a flash of fireworks in Chersonissos on the evening of December 10th.
Choirs outside the central church sang the “kalanda”, or carols, from various areas in Greece, amplified for the whole town to hear. It seemed that the town had all turned out to be part of this occasion, the latest Christmas Bazaar coordinated by the Vritomartis, the Association of Women of Hersonissos.
Arriving at 5.30pm, it was a while before my little group of friends could muster the courage to plunge into the great mass of people gathered around stalls selling toys and crafts, food and cakes, hot chocolate and warm spicy wine.
Faces were being painted and my own sweet son, apparently unable to wait for the next full moon, became a wolf, and thereby showed us his true colours. Many kids waited for their turn to be led through the crowds on a placid donkey, or atop the miniature pony, which I first mistook for a key-ring. Toffee apples, redolent of childhood winters past, and an irresistible delight, were crunched. Tables along the central thoroughfare supported many more seasonal delicacies, along with groups of people; families and friends, giving this event the distinctive flavour of Greece, where it is still possible for an entire village to eat and drink together, marking an occasion in noisy good spirits. Many stall-owners, mainly women, conversed with passers-by in accented Greek, allowing only the most generalized guesses as to their countries of origin. I was struck by the possibility that we were seeing a microcosm of some Cretan future, bringing the best of Europe and beyond to these distant shores in a celebration of diversity and belonging. And yes, the souvlaki seller did a good trade, sending clouds of mouthwateringly meaty smoke up from his grill. As my friend remarked, what Greek party is complete without hot souvlakia? I also felt glad to see some familiar faces, particularly Dave G. with his family, now relocated to the coast after two unforgettable years in the village of Avdou.
Nothing here was at all expensive; neither the games, the rides, the home-made sweets nor any of the items brought to this festive market. All money raised, however, was earmarked for good causes, and among groups participating were “Ef-Zo Me Ton Karkino” (Living Well With Cancer), dedicated to providing practical and emotional support to cancer sufferers and their families. Ef-Zo also aim to raise awareness of issues faced by those living with these illnesses and to change attitudes about cancer; presenting positive images of people for whom life is still very much about living. Their motto is; Elpizw (hope), Stirizw (support), Ef-zw…which simply means to live well. They can be reached through www.efzo.gr.
I caught up with the president of Vritomartis, the multi-national association of women responsible for this Christmas street party. She is the hugely energetic Gordana Goreta, a Croatian whose English is as polished as her Greek. She speaks quickly and to the point, giving the impression that she is used to facing obstacles and to achieving her aims despite them. Our conversation touched on the rationale behind Vritomartis, an organization now numbering eighty full members from the area of Hersonissos, with many others, men included, involved in helping and contributing services. Gordana stated that the idea grew from the fact that many people employed in the tourist industry work terribly hard during the long season, but during winter tend to ‘go to sleep’, finding little productive activity to occupy the colder months. Raising awareness of the issues affecting women, as well as money to support activities, is also a way to bring women together, sharing ideas and energy. The organization is three quarters foreign-born women, but the percentage of Greeks participating is growing, in a country without a strong tradition of formally organized voluteerism.
Sadly, we learned from Gordana that missing among the fine choirs who perfomed at the bazaar were the international singers from Agios Nikolaos, several members of whom came down with the flu. I hope that we can hear them back in full voice soon.
The Gazette will undoubtedly be speaking with Gordana again, as she already has some interesting plans for early 2006!
Contact Gordana Goreta on 28970 29254, or attend a regular Friday meeting. The association meets every Friday in the village of Koutouloufari, one km south of Hersonissos.