Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

When nostalgia hits, it hits hard. The saddest Christmas story."The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree" Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Christmas past
Christmas past

It came out of nowhere, an intense wave of nostalgia, which made me gasp.

A memory so vivid, it could have been yesterday.

It was a book; a huge doorstep of a book, as books were in those days, you see, the book 

belonged to my mother, when she was a child.

The book was hard-backed, with a faded-red, cloth cover, and, at some point, I imagine, there must have been a dust jacket.

The pages were as thin as onion paper, yellowed, covered with tiny print, and, here and

there, it had the occasional black and white, woodblock – printed illustration.

My mother
My mother

We had other books which had belonged to our parents, when they were children, Enid

Blyton’s “Book of Bunnies”, telling the tales of Binkle and Flip, two mischievous rabbits.

Enid Blyton "Book of Bunnies"
Enid Blyton
"Book of Bunnies"

Enid Blyton’s “Book of Bunnies” belonged to my father, as did 

 “The Song of Hiawatha”

 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a book I never really liked.

My father
My father

I loved the “The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby” by the Reverend Charles

Kingsley, a story about Tom, a chimney sweep, who drowned, and became a water


“The Water Babies” was kept at my grandmother’s house, oh how I longed to take it

home with me, but that was not allowed, strict times!

I managed to find a picture of the exact same edition, the illustrations were wonderful.

"The Water Babies" Charles Kingsley
"The Water Babies"
Charles Kingsley

No book though, at this point of my life, (I must have been around six or seven years old)

was as fascinating to me, as the big red book of my mother’s.

I can’t remember the title of the book; it was one of those compendiums, a collection of

short children’s stories, and I can only remember one story from the book, which, I read,

over and over again, I knew it by heart, and, more or less, still do.

It was such a sad story, so sad, I would cry and cry after reading it, my mother would

chide me, tell me to put it down, but I read it, probably every day!

I never knew who had written the story; I had never “Googled” it, until today.

I remembered the story clearly, but I just wanted to sit and read it again.

Would you believe it, at the age of about seven, I was reading Dostoyevsky!

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The title of the story is “The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree”, in my mother’s book,

 it was called;

 “The child at Christ’s Christmas Tree”

 Of that I’m sure, but yes, it is the same story.

I found the story, and here it is, read it, and, if you are anything like me, have a little cry.

The Beggar Boy at Christ’s Christmas Tree by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1876

Translated by Constance Garnett

I am a novelist, and I suppose I have made up this story. I write “I suppose,” though I know for a fact that I have made it up, but yet I keep fancying that it must have happened on Christmas Eve in some great town in a time of terrible frost.

I have a vision of a boy, a little boy, six years old or even younger. This boy woke up that morning in a cold damp cellar. He was dressed in a sort of little dressing-gown and was shivering with cold. There was a cloud of white steam from his breath, and sitting on a box in the corner, he blew the steam out of his mouth and amused himself in his dullness watching it float away. But he was terribly hungry. Several times that morning he went up to the plank bed where his sick mother was lying on a mattress as thin as a pancake, with some sort of bundle under her head for a pillow.

 How had she come here? She must have come with her boy from some other town and suddenly fallen ill. The landlady who let the “concerns” had been taken two days before the police station, the lodgers were out and about as the holiday was so near, and the only one left had been lying for the last twenty-four hours dead drunk, not having waited for Christmas. In another corner of the room a wretched old woman of eighty, who had once been a children’s nurse but was now left to die friendless, was moaning and groaning with rheumatism, scolding and grumbling at the boy so that he was afraid to go near her corner.

 He had got a drink of water in the outer room, but could not find a crust anywhere, and had been on the point of waking his mother a dozen times. He felt frightened at last in the darkness: it had long been dusk, but no light was kindled. Touching his mother’s face, he was surprised that she did not move at all, and that she was as cold as the wall. “It is very cold here,” he thought. He stood a little, unconsciously letting his hands rest on the dead woman’s shoulders, then he breathed on his fingers to warm them, and then quietly fumbling for his cap on the bed, he went out of the cellar. He would have gone earlier, but was afraid of the big dog which had been howling all day at the neighbor’s door at the top of the stairs. But the dog was not there now, and he went out into the street.

Mercy on us, what a town! He had never seen anything like it before. In the town from he had come, it was always such black darkness at night. There was one lamp for the whole street, the little, low-pitched, wooden houses were closed up with shutters, there was no one to be seen in the street after dusk, all the people shut themselves up in their houses, and there was nothing but the howling all night. But there it was so warm and he was given food, while here—oh, dear, if he only had something to eat! And what a noise and rattle here, what light and what people, horses and carriages, and what a frost! The frozen steam hung in clouds over the horses, over their warmly breathing mouths; their hoofs clanged against the stones through the powdery snow, and everyone pushed so, and—oh, dear, how he longed for some morsel to eat, and how wretched he suddenly felt. A policeman walked by and turned away to avoid seeing the boy.

There was another street—oh, what a wide one, here he would be run over for certain; how everyone was shouting, racing and driving along, and the light, the light! And what was this? A huge glass window, and through the window a tree reaching up to the ceiling; it was a fir tree, and on it were ever so many lights, gold papers and apples and little dolls and horses; and there were children clean and dressed in their best running about the room, laughing and playing and eating and drinking something. And then a little girl began dancing with one of the boys, what a pretty little girl! And he could hear the music through the window. The boy looked and wondered and laughed, though his toes were aching with the cold and his fingers were red and stiff so that it hurt him to move them.

 And all at once the boy remembered how his toes and fingers hurt him, and began crying, and ran on; and again through another window-pane he saw another Christmas tree, and on a table cakes of all sorts—almond cakes, red cakes and yellow cakes, and three grand young ladies were sitting there, and they gave the cakes to any one who went up to them, and the door kept opening, lots of gentlemen and ladies went in from the street. The boy crept up, suddenly opened the door and went in. oh, how they shouted at him and waved him back! One lady went up to him hurriedly and slipped a kopeck into his hand, and with her own hands opened the door into the street for him! How frightened he was. And the kopeck rolled away and clinked upon the steps; he could not bend his red fingers to hold it right. the boy ran away and went on, where he did not know. He was ready to cry again but he was afraid, and ran on and on and blew his fingers.

 And he was miserable because he felt suddenly so lonely and terrified, and all at once, mercy on us! What was this again? People were standing in a crowd admiring. Behind a glass window there were three little dolls, dressed in red and green dresses, and exactly, exactly as though they were alive. Once was a little old man sitting and playing a big violin, the two others were standing close by and playing little violins, and nodding in time, and looking at one another, and their lips moved, they were speaking, actually speaking, only one couldn’t hear through the glass.

 And at first the boy thought they were alive, and when he grasped that they were dolls he laughed. He had never seen such dolls before, and had no idea there were such dolls! All at once he fancied that some one caught at his smock behind: a wicked big boy was standing beside him and suddenly hit him on the head, snatched off his cap and tripped him up. The boy fell down on the ground, at once there was s shout, he was numb with fright, he jumped up and ran away. He ran, and not knowing where he was going, ran in at the gate of some one’s courtyard, and sat down behind a stack of wood: “They won’t find me here, besides it’s dark!”

He sat huddled up and was breathless from fright, and all at once, quite suddenly, he felt so happy: his hands and feet suddenly left off aching and grew so warm, as warm as though he were on a stove; then he shivered all over, then he gave a start, why, he must have been asleep. How nice to have a sleep here! “I’ll sit here a little and go and look at the dolls again,” said the boy, and smiled thinking of them. “Just as though they were alive! …” and suddenly he heard his mother singing over him. “Mammy, I am asleep; how nice it is to sleep here!”

“Come to my Christmas tree, little one,” a soft voice suddenly whispered over his head.
He thought that this was still his mother, but no, it was not she. Who it was calling him, he could not see, but someone bent over to him, and … and all at once—oh, what a bright light! Oh, what a Christmas tree! And yet it was not a fir tree, he had never seen a tree like that! Where was he now? Everything was bright and shining, and all around him were dolls; but no, they were not dolls, they were little boys and girls, only so bright and shining. They all came flying round him, they all kissed him, took him and carried him along with them, and he was flying himself, and he saw that his mother was looking at him and laughing joyfully. “Mammy, Mammy; oh, how nice it is here, Mammy!” and again he kissed the children and wanted to tell them at once of those dolls in the shop windows.

“Who are you, boys” who are you, girls?” he asked, laughing and admiring them.
“This is Christ’s Christmas tree,” they answered. “Christ always has a Christmas tree on this day, for the little children who have no tree of their own …” and he found out that all these little boys and girls were children just like himself; that some had been frozen in the baskets in which they had as babies been laid on the doorsteps of well-to-do Petersburg people, others had been boarded out with Finnish women by the Foundling and had been suffocated, others had died at their starved mothers’ breasts (in the Samara famine), others had died in the third-class railway carriages from the foul air; and yet they were all here, they were all like angels about Christmas, and He was in the midst of them and held out His hands to them and blessed them and their sinful mothers. … and the mothers of these children stood on one side weeping; each one knew her boy or girl, and the children flew up to them and kissed them and wiped away their tears with their little hands, and begged them not to weep because they were so happy.

And down below in the morning the porter found the little dead body of the frozen child on the woodstack; they sought out his mother too. … she had died before him. They met before the Lord God in heaven.

Why have I made up such a story, so out of keeping with an ordinary diary, and a writer’s above all? And I promised two stories dealing with real events! But that is just it, I keep fancying that all this may have happened really—that is, what took place in the cellar and on the woodstack; but as for Christ’s Christmas tree, I cannot tell you whether that could have happened or not.

"Lathera". Cooking with organic Greek olive oil. Arakas Latheros - Greek-style peas cooked in olive oil.

"Arakas latheros" Peas, Greek-style
"Arakas latheros"
Peas, Greek-style

The Mediterranean Diet is considered the healthiest diet in the world.

With its use of organic Greek olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, cheese and very little

 meat, Greek cuisine certainly falls under this heading.

What could be better than the combination of fresh, seasonal vegetables and Greek 

Kalamata olive oil, reputed to be the best, by culinary experts?

Lathera, (From the Greek word “lathi” meaning oil) is a large category of Greek dishes, 

mostly vegetables, cooked in olive oil, usually served as a main dish.

Organic, Greek, Kalamata olive oil
Organic, Greek, Kalamata olive oil

A vast variety of vegetables can be used for “Lathera” dishes, runner beans, okra, eggplant, 

zucchini, artichokes, peas, quite honestly, if you have any type vegetable, olive oil and a 

few tomatoes, to hand,  you can prepare a “Lathera” dish.

Fresh, seasonal vegetables. Loutraki Street Market Greece
Fresh, seasonal vegetables.
Loutraki Street Market

“Lathera” dishes, are, of course, preferably prepared with fresh, seasonal vegetables, but 

they can be made with frozen vegetables, as I am doing today, with my “Araka”, peas, 

which, by the way, I don’t think I have ever seen fresh in Greece, but, I’m sure they must 

exist somewhere!

The following recipe can be utilized for all vegetables, if frozen, no need to thaw them out.

Ingredients for "Arakas latheros" Peas, Greek-style
Ingredients for "Arakas latheros"
Peas, Greek-style

Araka latheros (Greek-style peas in olive oil and tomato sauce)


For 4-6 people

½ cup Greek olive oil

500 gr Frozen peas

About 1 kilo potatoes (Peeled & cut into cubes)

2 Large onions (Chopped)

2 Cloves garlic (Chopped)

500 gr Tomato juice, or puree. (Skinned, chopped fresh tomatoes can be used)

Sea salt & fresh ground black pepper

About 100 mls hot water

Bunch of fresh dill, washed & chopped (optional)


Saute onion & garlic in Greek olive oil
Saute onion & garlic in Greek olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan.

Sauté the onion & garlic until translucent, about five minutes.

Add tomato puree, stir and bring to the boil.

Add potatoes and frozen peas bring to the boil; turn down heat to a slow simmer.

Add salt & pepper to taste.

Add dill

Add enough hot water to cover the peas and potatoes, simmer, covered, until potatoes are 

soft and sauce has thickened. (1 to 1 ½ hours)

Stir occasionally, especially towards the end of cooking, when the sauce has thickened, and

 may have a tendency to stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

"Arakas latheros" Peas, Greek-style
 "Arakas latheros"
Peas, Greek-style

This tasty dish is usually served as a main course, but it’s excellent as a side dish with 

fish, or meat, I like it with sausages, or pork / lamb chops.

When served alone, Greeks customarily serve feta cheese with “Lathera” dishes, not only 

for its unique taste, but also to add protein to the meal.

Slice up some fresh crusty bread, add a plate of black Kalamata olives and you have a tasty

 and nutritious, authentic, Greek meal.

Oh, and not to be forgotten, lashings of great Greek wine!

If you are interested in finding out more about authentic, Greek cooking, tips, and secrets, of how to produce the best Greek dishes, this, in my opinion, is one of the best Greek cookery books.

The Country Cooking of Greece By Diane Kochilas.

More Greek Recipes

Does it ever snow in Greece? Yes, it does! Pictures of a different Greece.

MGG (My Greek God) Kalavryta
MGG (My Greek God) Kalavryta

Friends from England often ask me; 

“Does it ever get cold in Greece?

My answer is; 

“Yes, it does!”

Ski resort Kalavryta Greece
Ski resort

Snow in Athens Photo Eleni Vardoulakis
Snow in Athens
Photo Eleni Vardoulakis

 The conversation about winter in Greece usually continues something like this;

“Not cold like in England though?”

“Well, yes, cold like in England” I answer.

Epidaurus in winter
Epidaurus in winter

I’m not quite sure if they believe me about winter in Greece.

Here is proof!

Snow on the Acropolis Athens Greece
Snow on the Acropolis

This is how cold it gets in Greece, look at the icicles on this tree (Stymphalia, Korinthias).

A burst water pipe caused this.

Stymphalia, Korinthias
 Stymphalia, Korinthias

Loutraki sea front photo volta sto Loutraki
Loutraki sea front
Photo Volta sto Loutraki

For Northern Greece, snow is quite the norm in the winter months.

Sun and snow in Volos Photo Konstantina
Sun and snow in Volos
Photo Konstantina


Snow in Grevana
Snow in Grevana

Down here, in the South, the Peloponnese, where we live, except for in the mountainous regions, snow is rather a rare phenomenon.

It does look very pretty, children love it, but it’s just not my scene!

Even the Greek islands don't escape the snow!

Santorini under snow
Santorini under snow

I want the summer, I want the warm sea!

 While walking along Loutraki sea front, I cannot conceive that this is the same sea that, only a few 

months ago, was warm, calm and bathed in sunlight.

Loutraki in winter. Photo Volta sto Loutraki
Loutraki in winter.
Photo Volta sto Loutraki

Is this the same beach, where I spent endless idyllic hours, soaking up the sun, where I 

was lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore?

The same waves that now crash and pound the pebbles?

Loutraki beach Photo Volta sto Loutraki
Loutraki beach
Photo Volta sto Loutraki

Just look at this wonderful photo, snow on the Gerania Mountains of Loutraki, taken by my friend Hilary in 2011.

Snow on Gerania Mountains 2011 Loutraki Photo Hilary Anastadiadis
Snow on Gerania Mountains 2011
Photo Hilary Anastadiadis

 “This too shall pass”

But please, please do be quick about it!

Agiaso Lesvos Photo
Agiaso Lesvos

Meanwhile, my crazy son, Johnny, is out there, fighting with the waves.

 Rather you than me Johnny!

At one with the sea.Loutraki
At one with the sea.Loutraki

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”
Albert Camus

See more Greek winter wonderland here;

Kalamata, Messinia. Second largest city of the Peloponnese, Greece.

Kalamata Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece
Messinia, Peloponnese,

Living in the Peloponnese, we’re never stuck for somewhere to go, we have ancient ruins on

 our doorstep, and we’re no more than a few hours’ drive, from some of the most visited

 ancient and archaeological sites of Greece.

I’ve visited just about all the “Must see” places and towns of the Peloponnese, and yet, 

incredibly, I had never been to Kalamata.

Kalamata Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece
Messinia, Peloponnese,

When MGG (My Greek God), informed me he had business to tend to in Kalamata, I 

enthusiastically said I would join him.

Kalamata, capital of the Messinia region, is the second largest city of the Peloponnese, 

after Patra, and lies at the foot of Mount Kalathi.

 Kalamata was first mentioned by Homer (Greece’s first epic poet, and author of “The Illiad 

and “Odyssey”) as Phara, an ancient city, built where Kalamata Castle stands today.

Castle of the Villehardouins in Kalamata

"The castle of Kalamata  dates back to the Byzantine period, but its current form is based on great reconstruction by the franc prince and founder of the principality of Achaia , Geoffrey Villehardouin, in the early 13th century.
 Modifications on the castle of Kalamata were made ​​by the Venetians who occupied the city since 1685 until 1715.
At the steepest point of the top of the hill, there is a tower, with vaulted water reservoir, where they have found ruins of a temple.
 An inner fortification wall surrounds the top of the hill. 
Because of the earthquake of 1986, ​​many parts of the castle of Kalamata were characterized as dangerous, so the center is no longer visited, visitors can wander only around the interior of the castle and the enjoy lovely view over the historic center of Kalamata." 

The Phara mentioned by Homer was of no importance, rather a one horse town, and

 Kalamata wasn’t mentioned again until the tenth century, when, after the fourth crusade, in

 1205, it was conquered by the Franks, and remained under Frankish rule.

From 1481 to 1685, Kalamata, and the rest of Greece, was occupied by the Ottomans.

In 1659, during the war between the Ottomans and the Venetians, the Venetians took 

Kalamata, and The Venetian Republic ruled Kalamata from 1685 as part of the

 "Kingdom of the Morea".

Looking out over Morea Kalamata Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece
Looking out over Morea
Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece

Under the Venetians, Kalamata, was fortified, developed and thrived economically.

In 1821, Kalamata, was the first city in Greece to be liberated from the Ottomans, in the 

Greek War of Independence, and taken over by the Greeks, under the command of 

generals Theodoros Kolokotronis, Petros Mavromichalis and Papaflessas.

Petros Mavromichalis raises Messinia in revolt,  by Peter von Hess.
Petros Mavromichalis raises Messinia in revolt,
 by Peter von Hess.

However, in 1825, the invading Ibrahim Pasha, destroyed the city.


Ibrahim Pasha
Ibrahim Pasha

After the invasion of  Ibrahim Pasha, Kalamata was rebuilt and became one of the most

 important ports in the Mediterranean, 

 the second-oldest Chamber of Commerce in the Mediterranean, after that of Marseille,

 exists in Kalamata.

The port of Kalamata today
The port of Kalamata today

After WWII, Kalamata was more or less neglected, as was most of the Peloponnese, the 

emphasis being given to the development of Northern Greece.

This resulted in the decline, of the once rich port, and there was no development 

whatsoever, during the 70s and 80s.

After a severe earthquake destroyed Kalamata in 1986, local authorities took a no-holds-

barred stance, rebuilding, and doing all they could to bring the forsaken city of Kalamata, 

capitol of Messinia, back to its former glory.

Kalamata Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece
Messinia, Peloponnese,

There's plenty to do and see in Kalamata, the views from the Castle of the Villehardouins 

(Mentioned above) are breath-taking.

Kalamata Marina Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece
Kalamata Marina
Messinia, Peloponnese,

Take a walk around the scenic marina,or, visit one of the numerous, important churches.

The Church of the Holy Apostles,  is where Mavromichalis declared the revolt against Ottoman rule in 1821.
The Church of the Holy Apostles,
 is where Mavromichalis declared the revolt against Ottoman rule in 1821. 

The Church of Ypapanti. Kalamata. Greece
The Church of Ypapanti

The Cathedral of Kalamata is called "Ypapanti tou Sotiros" or "Presentation of the Savior".

 The cathedral is one of the largest of Messinia, built in 1839 and consecrated in 1873.
 The layout is  traditional Byzantine style and it houses the ancient and miraculous icon of the Panagia.
Annually on 2nd February, it celebrates the Presentation of the Lord into the Temple. It also celebrates on the Apodosis of Pascha, 
which is a moveable feast day celebrated the day prior to the Holy Ascension.
 It was on the Apodosis of Pascha that the wonder working icon  of the Panagia was discovered.
The Panagia Ypapanti is the Protectress of the City of Kalamata.

At the  Kalograion Monastery, of Saints Constantine and Helen, nuns weave the famous, 

hand-printed, silk, Kalamata scarves, from silk, produced from silk worms raised there.

Kalograion Monestary Kalamata
Kalograion Monestary Kalamata

Silk workshop at the Kalograion Monastery, Kalamata
Silk workshop at the Kalograion Monastery,

The famous, hand-printed Kalamata silk scarves
The famous, hand-printed Kalamata silk scarves

Kalamata boasts a one-of-a-kind railway museum.

Train engines and carriages are exhibited outdoors, among the lush, green, Kalamata 


Railway Park Kalamata
Railway Park

The day for our Kalamata trip, didn’t dawn well, the wind was howling and the rain was pouring.

It was the kind of day to spend indoors, reading a good book, or, generally just potter around.

MGG had an appointment in Kalamata at ten in the morning, so, at eight thirty, we were on the road

The weather was becoming progressively worse, at one point I thought we would have to stop, we could hardly see through the rain.

On a wet road to Kalamata Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece.
On a wet road to Kalamata
Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece.

Despite the filthy weather conditions, we arrived safely in Kalamata and dashed from the

 car, to the nearest coffee shop, the rain was torrential, an umbrella was of no use at all, and

 would have been whipped away in seconds by the gale force wind.  

My plan yesterday had been to walk around Kalamata, snap a few pictures, and visit the 

interesting sites and landmarks, and of course, stock up on the famous Kalamata olives, 

said by some, to be the best in Greece.

Kalamata Olives
Kalamata Olives

 Kalamata olives have been awarded the status of PDO (Protected designation of origin, a 

European Union law passed in 1992 to protect the names of regional foods.)

If grown elsewhere, this variety of olive is called Kalamon

The roads and pavements were awash with rain water, it was thundering and lightning, it 

was impossible to go anywhere.

A wet and windy Kalamata Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece.
A wet and windy Kalamata
Messinia, Peloponnese, Greece.

I suggested that, after MGG, had seen to his business, we return to the square where we

 had coffee, find a good restaurant, have lunch, and do a bit of people watching.

We couldn’t let the day be a complete wash out!

Do you know? I’ve since been back to Kalamata, twice, both times, again, it poured

with rain.

My three visits to Kalamata, were all in the winter months, and, apparently, Kalamata is 
known for its wet winters.

I will get to see Kalamata in all her glory,

 my next trip, will be in the height of summer!