It feels a little weird publishing a post about Christmas in February but I really want these blogs to be in chronological order, for our family to look back on if nothing else, so I'm going to take you back in time a couple of months and share our Christmas in Athens with you.
One of the biggest worries we had when leaving the UK at the end of October was how we could keep Christmas special for the boys. Jake, aged 14, is definitely over the "magic/Santa" stuff and had moved on to thinking about what tech would be waiting for him under the tree. But Dexter, aged 6, is still very much in the Christmas sweet spot and we worried that not being in familiar surroundings would detract from the celebrations somehow. We needn't have worried.
One of the few things we took with us in our suitcases were the boy's personalised stockings. We made sure Dexter knew that Father Christmas knows how to find you no matter where you are in the world and that having his stocking would make that even easier and he was pleased with that idea.
In our apartment in Kefalonia through Early December we put up a few home made decorations, made some festive treats and thought about messages and cards we could send to friends and family. Our lovely neighbours Lynn and Nigel even gifted us a tree for our apartment and let the boys help with decorating around the property - apparently it was the first time for a few years they had got their decorations out and it was lovely to spend that time with them and really helped make the build up to Christmas feel special.
We set off for Athens on the 20th December and I'd managed to stash a few pressies in our bags that I'd picked up on the island - the most important being new Christmas Eve PJ's (a long running Sigston tradition is to get a pair of PJ's gifted from the Christmas tree on Christmas eve) plus some chocolates, socks and stationary for the stockings. We knew we had a few more things to find once in the city but were not too worried about being able to get hold of them.
As soon as our butts hit Athens we made our way to Syntagma Square to see the Christmas lights. They are extraordinary and really made us feel we'd picked the right city in Greece to spend the festive period. Huge trees, buildings covered with baubles and light displays too many to mention greeted us and filled us all with Christmas spirit. (I mentioned the lights in the square in an earlier post about arriving in Athens if you'd like to see a few more photos).
As we explored the city over the next few days we managed to fit in buying the boy's main presents, (headphones for Jake and a new gaming controller for Dexter), plus a teeny Christmas tree and everything we needed for a mostly traditional UK Christmas dinner that I would be preparing at the apartment.
Kris' mum and dad had kindly gifted us some money for Christmas to spend on our trip and so we decided that on Christmas Eve we'd head for the Acropolis museum and have a meal on them. It was such a lovely day. Over the years Christmas Eve has often been a time of rushing to get last minute jobs done, hours spent in the kitchen and worrying about not having enough time to spend with friends and family, but not this year, we only had ourselves to please and it felt really good.
As we went about our day we kept in contact with Kris' parents, letting them know where we were and what we were getting up to. We sent them photos of the boys enjoying the museum and dinner and it felt really nice to be able to share our time with them.
Once at home we had a video call with some friends and it was lovely to see them and their children all excited and to wish them Merry Christmas. I was so pleased they had the time to fit us in. Then, like children all over the world, new PJ's were dutifully worn, stockings were hung by a tree, a drink and snack were left out for the big man and everyone went excitedly off to bed.
Christmas morning was just lovely. Any fears of it not feeling special were soon forgotten as both boys set about destroying parcels, playing with new goodies and sending messages to family. We had bought chocolates from their Aunt, Uncle and cousins which we wrapped from them and they were delighted to be getting gifts from people other than "just" us! As well as their main presents we got them some needed new clothes and socks, a puzzle from a day trip that they'd wanted and I'd secretly gone back and purchased without them knowing, as well as some new pens, notebooks and chocolates. We also got Dexter a couple of new books and gifted Jake some Kindle credit for his own reading amusement.
After we'd had a few chilled hours and eaten pancakes for breakfast, we decided to go for a walk. It was a warm morning with gorgeous blue skies and so we headed over to the National Gardens in Athens. This a a huge green park space right in the middle of the city, 38 acres of play parks, ponds, fountains, walkways and even a rather small petting zoo that looked like it really needed some TLC.
We spotted terrapins in the ponds, played on the swings, got a look at the fountain and generally enjoyed being in nature. The usually rammed roads around the park were eerily quiet which made our walk there and back much nicer than usual.
Once back at the apartment the boys settled down to play with various things and I started dinner. It really was a tiny kitchen and not the best stocked one at that in terms of equipment but I managed to make roast potatoes plus vegetables with onion gravy and we had some delicious vegan sausages wrapped in pastry alongside it.
As dinner was cooking I managed to enjoy 20 minutes on the balcony in the sun drinking a glass of bubbles - a neighbour across the way doing the same on their balcony waved and called "Kala Christougena" which was a nice moment.
After dinner we settled down for a Christmas film, ate far too many chocolates, drank far too much alcohol (parents) and fizzy drink (teenager) and ended the day with full bellies, fuzzy heads and happy memories.
On boxing day the streets were back to usual Athenian madness and we enjoyed a few more days exploring the city before heading back to Kefalonia for New Year.
The boys declared it a wonderful Christmas and although we would have loved to have seen friends and family in the flesh it was easy to keep in touch and have loved ones included in our day. We asked both boys whether they would ever want to spend Christmas away from the UK again and they both said they would, but next time they want snow - so, maybe a white Christmas on the cards for 2022 if we can swing things that way.
If you ever get the chance to spend Christmas in a new country I'd say do it! It will feel weird and scary, but I think sometimes the best things are the scariest at first, and it's certainly a Christmas we'll never forget. Think back to your childhood, you might remember one or two very special Christmas gifts but I bet the things you remember the most are where you were and how you were with - I hope the boys look back with real fondness at our Greek Christmas.
If you have spent Christmas away from home I'd love you to share your experiences.