Surviving Christmas

Words by Thiamando Pavlidis
Art by Liz Cameron

When you think of a traditional Christmas in Australia, you think of barbecue prawns, pavlova, Christmas crackers and paper crowns. You might even have fond memories of when Nana had too many sherries and asked Uncle Graham when he was going to find a wife, right in front of his partner Kevin.

When I think of Christmas, I think of where Dad might store the lamb carcass in the days before he chucks it on the spit. Last year it was in the spare room next to the Christmas sweets, and you best believe I had the fright of my life getting a biscuit for my cup of tea that morning.

Christmas is usually hosted at my house, and my Big Fat Greek Extended Family (at least, the ones in Australia) are invited. For us, Christmas is a three-day ordeal, including the preparation, cleaning and concrete-watering the days before, of, and after.

Lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper

This is the marinade we use for everything. As we found out during the Great Paella Disaster of 2015, the family won’t eat anything that strays too far from their preferred palate. So, we keep it the same every year—simple and traditional.

We also have to consider all the dietary requirements. For example, one of my grandmothers is gluten-free, the other is diabetic. My cousins are allergic to an array of nuts and my aunt is a vegan. As a result, the chocolate cake baked by my other aunt is free of gluten, nuts, animal products and flavour. What we do for family.

Just eat it

The common theme of every family gathering is berating the children on their eating habits. For me, the only girl, it’s a combination of “why aren’t you eating?” and “you’ve put on weight!”

But what do you do with constant comments about your eating or weight? Do you educate Yiayia or Nonna on the body positivity movement? No!

One thing we need to understand is that our grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles have come from a time where perceptions of food and eating were different. While sometimes the comments seem hurtful, they’re likely coming from a place of love. Their comment is instead saying, “you’ve eaten well this year!”

Let’s get political

Political convos with the family can be contentious, especially considering the fact that you’ve usually got all the living generations in the one room.

Religion is also a big theme in our family, and here is where we start to have issues. My grandparents are dedicated followers of the Greek Orthodox Church. One time I did the sign of the cross wrong before eating and was told, “Jesus doesn’t love you if you do it like that…”

It was a discussion of the marriage equality plebiscite in 2017 when I realised how important religion is to my grandparents. “Oh, I voted no,” responded my grandmother when asked about it. “The priest told us not to in the sermon, and we all got flyers. It’s a sin.”

I was ready to start arguing but I realised it was a lost cause. Under no circumstance would my grandparents ever put my, or anyone’s political opinion over the church’s. The best thing to do is to not give the conversation fuel. No matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t change a person’s opinion, but you can change the topic.

Slave to the rhythm

It can sometimes be the simplest of things. I was asked to put on some Greek music. Sure, I listen to Greek music.

“No, not that Greek music.”

“Her voice irritates me.”

Now, I’m a very big fan of Eleni Foureira and it’s very hard to hear such harsh criticism about my queen. But I understand that sometimes I gotta sacrifice my perfectly curated playlists for the Spotify equivalent of the giant leather case of CDs my Greek school dance teacher would carry.

In today’s world, we’re so used to ‘cancelling’ people whose views differ from ours that we don’t take a step back to try to understand why a person comes to think the way they do.

As my mum beautifully and lovingly says literally any time I complain about anything: “back in the village you would’ve been picking tobacco or shovelling pig shit the moment you turned five—just shut up and wash the dishes!” That woman has a way with words.

If all else fails, there are coping techniques: pretend you don’t speak the same language, get drunk, keep busy or just turn up the music (you can’t reply if you can’t hear them!).

Christmas is only for a few hours a year. It’s one of the rare times my family comes together to celebrate. That’s why when I’m asked to do something, I’ll do it, no matter how irritated I am about being the family’s servant or how much shiraz I’ve poured in my glass when Mum wasn’t looking.

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