Deck the halls with…piles of trash?

It’s that time of year again, the holiday season.  Everywhere around the world, people are decking the halls.  In such a uniformly Christian country, Greek Orthodox to be specific, one might guess that Greece would be decorating for Christmas by putting up lights, wreaths, or other typical Christmas decorations.  That is what I expected anyway.  But then again, if I’ve learned anything here it’s not to expect the obvious. 

 Instead, Greece is decked out in piles of trash, spray-painted buildings, anarchist signs and banners, and other miscellaneous items such as burned oranges and abandoned shoes.  Christmas tree with all the trimmings?  No, more like burned trees without any trimmings, or leaves for that matter.  Aromas of candy-canes, garlands, or hot chocolate?  Try aromas of trash so bad I would consider buying a trendy swine mask to wear.  And the lingering sulfuric smell of tear-gas.  Ahh…fa la la la la la la la la. 

 The piles of trash everywhere are the result of a strike.  This is the second time that Athens waste management has gone on strike since I’ve been here.  But this time, it’s bad.  This strike has lasted over a week, and lemme tell ya people have a lot of trash after one week.  It’s really piled up.  So much so that I often find myself strategically jumping over and around these overstuffed dumpsters in order to clear the sidewalk.  Trash has started to extend from the dumpsters to the cars parked next to them.  And the smell.  I just really can’t get my point across here without doing the stench it’s justice.  It’s bad-real real real bad. (see trash album for an idea)

 And the other decorations like the anarchist signs, burned foliage and vandalized buildings are a result of anarchist riots.  Although, most of the activity occurred on December 6th, the one-year anniversary of the death of a 16-year old boy by a police officer, it has yet to stop.  Tear-gas was used on the rioters who threw maltov cocktails and oranges (lots of orange trees in Athens).  Needless to say, I’ve been told that December was going to be a riot-filled month.  Most of the hostility is directed towards the police, but I’m not headed to Paneppestimio (the University area) of Athens anytime soon.  I’ve seen so many riots that I’ve literally become slightly unaware and numb to them.  I saw one crossing the street the other day, and a second one passed me on my way to my language professor’s farewell dinner. 

 Well, at least the Greeks have the spirit thing down.  Nothing like the holidays without a little rioting in the streets!  I mean isn’t that essentially what the malls are like this time of year in America anyway?  I can handle a riot or two and some pyrotechnic displays of resistance, but crowded stores full of pushy people fighting over the last X-box or whatever-now that’s scary.

 Athens has begun to clean up a little bit though.  My favorite moment this past week was watching as a large Christmas tree was being put up in the city-center in the midst of all the trash and burned plants.  It just looked so ridiculous.  My roommates and I have bets on how fast that tree will go up in flames from more anarchist protest.  I’d say a little less than a week.  And lights are shining everywhere.  Ermou (main shopping street) is crowned with chandelier-like lights and vendors selling poinsettias.  Trees are strewn with lights that could only be put up by Greeks as they look like they were literally thrown up during someone’s coffee break.  Not to say that they don’t look good-they just appear very Greek as they should.

 So maybe Athens isn’t the picture of conventional Christmas, but it’s certainly a picture you could never forget.  A picture that I would venture to say communicates more than a thousand words to the viewer.  Maybe even two-thousand-after all, the Greeks do talk a lot.  And as I walk around Athens this time of year I really see the Christmas spirit-it’s a unique spirit, a feisty spirit, but a spirit nonetheless.  One worthy of the Christmas Carol; maybe a fourth spirit, a Greek spirit, should be added to the story.  Because honestly, it’s a spirit all it’s own-one that doesn’t fit the typical Christmas mold.  One that creates a new one.  In that way, I guess I already got what I wanted from Santa this year.  As my family knows, I always ask for a surprise.  And it seems that the Greek Christmas spirit is just that-a surprise.  But a surprise that I cherish.  A surprise that I didn’t even know I wanted until I got it. Santa really delivered this year-and early too.  I didn’t even write him a letter and he still knew that I didn’t want to hear caroling this Christmas.  No, Santa knew that I wanted to hear rioting-Santa knew that I wanted the real Greek Christmas spirit. 

 Now the only question is, does that mean I’ve been naughty or nice? 




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