NEW YEAR CELEBRATIONS IN AEGINA JANUARY 2008
We spent New Year’s Eve locked in the pleasant company of friends and family in an ‘alternative’ restaurant where interesting food was served, such as sweet and sour carrot salad, black and white rice and exquisite casseroled lamb with apricots and cream, but the children voted it too un-exciting for their particular New Year needs. The New Year was marked by a simple switching on and off of the electric lights. What the children wanted was a count-down followed by noisy Greek whooping and enthusiastic embraces, fireworks and Greek dancing.
We have promised them that next year, we will be more organised and will book well in advance to join our friends at our local taverna where the New Year is celebrated noisily, in true Greek style, where dancing continues well into the morning and people sing along to their favourite ballads.
We took the opportunity to reminisce about previous New Year celebrations and voted a particularly memorable one of two years ago. Then, we were invited to a family home where we were treated to the most amazing feast among the warm, congenial company of local Greeks. My wonderful friend Stella is an incredibly creative individual who keeps an admirable home and when she isn’t cooking, she restores furniture, paints walls and cares for her husband, two sons and their small-holding as well as numerous domestic animals.
Everything we were fed that evening was home-made. The chicken was home- raised, along with the roast pork. The lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and olives were home grown and even the olive oil used in the cooking was home-produced.
When 2006 was announced on the plasma TV screen, we all exchanged the customary hug, kissed both cheeks and wished each other kallee hronia, (good years).
Then it was time to cut the Vassilopitta, (the New Year cake), inside which was buried a small coin. Whoever wins the coin can expect to have good luck.
First a slice was cut for Christ which was put to the side, and then a slice was cut for the house, followed by the father of the house, the mother, the children and then each of the guests. Vasilopita is a large, light cake which has a generous dusting of icing sugar on its exterior and once one gets through this layer, which leaves a light white moustache above the lips, one meets the delicate taste of vanilla with a hint of orange juice.
Our host Christos, a dark, handsome man with a perpetual smile and a strong belief in family values also believes in having fun and had arranged for each guest to have a raffle ticket. Just after midnight, the winning ticket was drawn and the lucky winner was given a basket containing a bewildered looking snowy white chicken which was tied onto a bed of straw. A red ribbon was wound around the basket handle which was tied into a bow at the top, the end of which sat on the chicken’s back. Much to my relief, we didn’t win and much to my children’s relief, the winner was a gentle young lady who was likely to give the chicken a name and a home. We losers were each given a wild onion. The bulb was wrapped in foil and a red bow and a Christmas bauble were tied to the base of the stem. The symbolism of this gesture is to hopefully fill the house with joy and activity in the coming year. Some Greeks tie the onions to their gates, we still have ours and the stem grows bigger each year but likewise, our household seems to get busier each year!
Then the card games started! Men, women and children hustled for places around several tables, in the centre of which were packs of cards ready to be shuffled and dealt for games of thirty one. Bets using small currency were placed and at the end of several games, someone would be slightly richer.
We played until 2 am, by which time, we were all exhausted. Nevertheless, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and felt honoured to have been asked to join our friends in sharing their wonderful hospitality; it was an experience that we will never forget
WE WISH YOU ALL A WONDERFUL 2008 AND RECOMMEND THAT YOU MAKE AT LEAST ONE TRIP TO AEGINA ISLAND TO SHARE A POSITIVE GREEK EXPERIENCE
Alison Lorentzos copyright 2008