Monday, December 23, 2013

The Deeper Message of Christmas

I'm gazing at the plate with the melomakarona cookies, a traditional dessert to be found in every local house, and I never fail to think just how positively Byzantine they look. Their gritty but oily texture, dough folded with olive oil and wheat flour; their walnuts and honey succulence, a memory reflecting the offering of peasants to the ancient pagan gods of fertility; their deeper olive-sandy shade the same as the liturgical beeswax candles that burn in the Orthodox churches, a surefire reference of the Eastern Mediterranean, similar still to the lined faces of the old closing their eyes in piety when the censer comes out and ringlets of fragrant smoke rise up in the air. Things become symbols.

Religious I am not. But there's something about piety and contemplative ritual which deeply appeals to a (universal, I feel) need for the mystic and the offer of one's spirit to something higher. This can manifest itself in many ways, some entailing sensual ways that include our small hobby, others which explore the higher arts and others still which mean sharing yourself with the universe, belonging. Christmas, for those who partake of the tradition at least in spirit, if not in letter, means realizing that we're all brothers and sisters, that filling up one's soul with goodness and with peace allows for forgiving and for sharing and that this is the only way to conquer death.

I'm leaving you with a Byzantine-style chant performed by the monks of the Simonopetra Monastery in Mount Athos, Greece, called "Agni Parthene" (Oh Pure Virgin, Ωδή β', Ήχος πλάγιος α') composed by St.Nectarios of Aegina in the 19th century during his tenure at the Rizareios Theological School in Athens.

My best wishes to all of you for love, peace and sharing of the self during this festive season*.

*And for those who wonder (and wish me a good Orthodox Christmas later on), Greek Christmas is the same day as Western Christmas, even though most Greeks are Orthodox Christian.


  1. Merry Christmas Helg .
    I love your blog and I learn so much !!!!

  2. Maria04:15

    Byzantine cookies... I've always wondered how Byzantine culture must look like for people who live closer to its heritage, than we here in Russia, or straight in it. Must be great to have such a direct connection to what I always (and secretly) compare to Captain's Flint treasure: everybody heard of it, many look for, but the mystery of Byzantine food remains. Which I find very Byzantine :-D

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Miss Heliotrope05:17

    Merry Christmas yourself - & thank you for interestingly & amusingly contributing to my year...

  4. Morticia05:28

    Out from the shadows I come to wish a a very Merry Christmas my friend. I swear we're related some how.

  5. Thank you darling M!

    This is high praise indeed. :-) Hope my Xmas card has reached you by now. The wishes sure travel on the ether.

    Merry Christmas and all the very best for a lucky and much easier New Year!

  6. Maria,

    great comparison! it's a very interesting proposition, Byzantium is so steeped in mystery and intrigue by itself. Even the people who are academically immersed in it are so VERY different than those who are occupied with prehistoric or classical antiquity. There's a bit of mediaeval mysticism sticking to one, isn't there? ;-)

    The food is a most intriguing subject (to me at least) as there are so many remnants in Greek, Turkish, Azeri and Persian cooking still today; appetizing and inventive too . It's always fascinating coming up with tidbits that suggest that something derives from that 1000 of years we so collectively call Byzantium.

    Thank you for reading and for your wishes which I send back with three kisses, Russian style. :-)

  7. MH,

    thank you so very much and thanks for commenting in such an interesting way all through the year.

    Happy holidays!!

  8. M,

    thanks for coming out of the shadows and indeed we do share bonds. I guess this is the meaning of the holiday, finding and appreciating those bonds.


    Happy holidays!!

  9. Anonymous09:06

    Thank YOU for sharing so much of yoursELF.

    May peace light your pathways and happiness guide your spirit through this sacred season and the coming year.

    Greetings from Vienna.

  10. Eleonore11:39

    Thank you for this lovely post (I do agree with you )and for this beautiful song!
    (From France)I wish you a Merry Christmas full of joy, peace and near all those you love! Happy holidays too:-)

  11. My mind was leaping with your thoughts, but when I got to the Greek Chant and video, I became entranced. I have been awaiting for a video to chance by that could become my Christmas card to my family. So thank you, and Have a wonderful Holiday.

  12. leathermountain14:01

    Beautiful music, and beautiful thoughts. Thank you.

  13. Anonymous18:21

    Καλά Χριστούγεννα :)

  14. Reg,

    you;re very sweet (and inventive) :-)

    Thank you!!

  15. Eleonore,

    un joyeux Noel avec beaucoup de bonheur et plein d'amour!!

  16. Nadine,

    glad you enjoyed :-)

    I very much like this kind of music. It is entrancing, isn't it?

    happy holidays!!

  17. A,

    my best wishes to you and your loved ones!! :-)

  18. Phanie,

    καλά Χριστούγεννα και πολλές ευχές και για την ονομαστική σου γιορτή λίαν συντόμως!

  19. …and love to you, E!

  20. p,

    ah, you're here. My heart just melted a little bit.

    Lots of love sent your way, dear P, you have been missed.

  21. The scent of Tabu sends me back to a time where the heart sings and the feet dance.


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