The Joy of Christmas

I have always believed that holidays like Christmas make the happy people even happier and the unhappy ones even more miserable. Besides, it’s not incidental that there is a noticeable increase in the number of suicide attempts throughout the world during those festive days. It’s also natural – with all the decorations, excesses and abundance of presents – for the poor and the bare to feel even more penniless than they already are.

There was a Christmas Eve almost ten years ago, when I had read in the news that some young drug-addict had died from an overdose in the Athens underground railway. What affected me most was a postcard he was holding, showing a Christmas tree under which was written, “The joy of Christmas.”  Ten years have passed and I still can’t get that picture out of my mind.

Even today, I walk on the streets and I see people sleeping on the benches, the pavements or in some leeward corner of the Venetian walls . . .  I see women searching for clothes in the garbage or men waiting outside the supermarkets for discarded rotten fruits and vegetables in order to take them home.

On the other side, I am faced with the richly decorated stores, which from the first days of November had already fixed their fancy fronts, virtually yelling at you: “prosperity . . . repletion . . .  buy us”.  And once again, I think that Heraklion is the city of contrasts.

christmas creteBut, contrary to the civilians that have started to celebrate Christmas over this past month, there’s the total lack of decorations in our city by the officials.

Last year at this time, I was in Corfu and – as you can see by the photo on the right – the whole town was looking like a giant Christmas tree. Infinite ornaments, millions of lamps and lights, Santa Clauses and Christmas music on the streets. The small town of Corfu had turned into another city, a big one, pretty and happy. Festive.

On December 20th I returned to Heraklion and I felt like I was visiting a poor relative! The only “festive” atmosphere was a few lamps – if I remember well, they were purple in colour! – and an awful fir in Liberty Square, half-blasted, ugly and decorated pell-mell with a bunch of irrelevant ornaments. This year, already into the last days of November, I still haven’t seen any decorations in the town’s streets.

While I think of all the money the Municipality spends for the regeneration of the centre of the city, why hasn’t it added to its budget some Euros for the decoration of at least the central streets and squares of Heraklion?  And, of course, something to help spread some cheer among the city’s needy.

What does the city of Heraklion do for its poor and homeless?  In fact, what do any of us do?  A soup kitchen for Christmas and a little something on New Years Eve?  Do we know where they live the rest of the year, or do we only care for them during the festival days?  I include myself also, because all this time I touch upon the decorative crap made of porcelain and I leave aside the most important.

These days awake in us our consuming mania . . . we buy a bunch of useless stuff because they glitter, and we don’t give to those that really have a need. I remember my father always saying that we should give help not from our overage, but from our savings, and, as children, he made us donate not our broken toys, but our favourite ones.  “So, this action has worth”, he used to say.

A few days ago, a friend and I were passing by a tall building near the Park of Dominikos Theotokopoulos and out of curiosity we went in.  The last four years this building is under squatter occupation, and I didn’t know it!  A very gentle youngster showed us the floors, the rooms, the guest-rooms, the small library, the kitchen, the hand-made coffeehouse, the room where they show films once a week.

He told us the building’s history . . .  that 100 years ago it functioned as a girls’ school, then as a hospital. During the Second World War it was commandeered by the Germans and after they left, it continued functioning as a hospital with the name “Evaggelismos”.  As the years passed, it was abandoned, and eventually the homeless and the drug-addicts found shelter in it.  In 2001, about a dozen kids took it over, and since then there has been some kind of control as to who gets in there, with the purpose of creating a place of their own.

Right or wrong? I’m not the one to judge.  I don’t know what goes on there at night, but that morning the only thing I saw was people, who were homeless before they found that shelter, were now smiling and eating in the kitchen.  But, how long will it last with no electricity and with thousands of other technical problems?

Generally, I am not very fond of the holidays, but, I do understand the need of my fellowmen to define some days as important ones and, upon their arrival, they should be happy and celebrate them.  But, we should all understand that some other people who live among us may not be as lucky as we are, and may not have their health or the financial abilities for a dignified life.  Ok, I respect the necessity of joy and fiesta, but, let us have a balance . . . because there are some others who, by seeing all this extravagance, may feel their own extremes – if they don’t have a home, they will feel the cold even more . . .  if they don’t have food, they will feel even more hungry . . . if they don’t have a family, they will feel more alone.

* By Maria Daskalaki

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