For a lot of Greek children, there’s not a lot to be happy about this year as they faced yet another Austerity Christmas, a time not of cheer but of bleakness for a lot of families who’ve taken big pay cuts, tax hikes, and slashed pensions.
It’s a Christmas of record unemployment, deep poverty, political division and social unrest, except in the Parliament where all is well and where everyone gets paid handsomely and on time, while others go unpaid for months – or years – at a time.
It’s just another Luxury Christmas in 2013 for politicians whose just-released declarations of wealth showed they don’t have to worry where their next holiday goose is coming from, and for the rich and elite for whom a crisis is just a time to capitalize and prosper more, and they sure have.
It’s come at the expense of what some would call their fellow Greeks, except that people who breathe rarified air, easy to do when your nose is always tilted upward, find it difficult to look down on the hoi-polloi and the great unwashed who are for them just the suckers who pay taxes.
The year 2014 will bring Greece into a seventh year of a deep recession – that’s what it is when your neighbor loses his job but becomes a depression when you lose yours. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who went to Athens College, Amherst College and has led a privileged life said it will be a year of recovery. How would he know? He’s never been down.
And that, of course, as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who brought disgrace and DNA to the Oval Office, might say, depends on what recovery is is. Is it a recovery if you can buy two cans of dog food – for yourself? Is it a Christmas if that’s your gift – to yourself?
Greek businesses are hoping that Sunday shopping will prevent more of them from joining the ranks of 168,000 that have shuttered since 2010 when Greece began getting the first of what would be two bailouts of $325 billion that came with onerous austerity measures that, as usual, affected the most vulnerable.
The government allowed more Sunday openings in the hopes that Greeks would spend, forgetting that since their one-month salary Christmas bonuses have been eliminated – along with a half month each at Easter and in the summer – that there’s nothing left to spend.
It’s been a few years now since protesters burned down the City of Athens’ Christmas tree in the main Syntagma Square across the street from Parliament where lawmakers enjoy free food and booze in the halls and where police officers salute them and door keepers who make more than school teachers open doors for while bowing and scraping at the same time, a feat surpassed only by politicians who can put both their feet in their mouth at the same time.
This year Athens decided to put a decorative ship there, a more traditional Christmas symbol for Greece, but forgot to add the rocks on which it’s being dashed because there isn’t a Captain in the country who can pilot it.
These shipping industry tycoons are too busy stuffing their foreign bank accounts with the tax-free cash they extorted by warning they’d leave the country if they were asked to do their patriotic duty and pay their fair share.
A stroll around Athens’ neighborhoods will show few Christmas decorations on balconies and even less of the kind of spirit you associate with this time of the year. A Currier and Ives Greek Christmas card would have to show an empty store front with a dead tree inside it.
Greeks aren’t buying Christmas trees – they’re burning them, along with plastic, furniture, construction debris and whatever is inflammable, trying to keep warm because scores of thousands of them have had their electricity turned off for non-payment and they can’t afford heavily-taxed fuel oil.
At least two people have died, including a 13-year-old Serbian girl from carbon monoxide, trying to keep warm in their powerless homes while Christmas parties for politicians let them regale each other and fill their cups to overfilling.
Greek retailers are hoping against hope that 2013 won’t be yet another disastrous one for sales and are offering deep discounts trying to lure buyers.
As last year, Greeks are doing a lot of window shopping, passing the empty storefronts that litter downtown Athens and other Greek cities. Storeowners said they saw sales drop some 20 percent in 2012 and there’s no reason to believe this year will be any different.
If only a fleeting fantasy, Christmas is supposed to bring glee, but all you can see on the faces of too many disenchanted is the thousand-yard stare of despair and people who’ve just surrendered.
But at least there’s still Santa Claus, a mesmerizing delight to children who still believe in him, although they may have had a few questions about why he was underwater and waving at them at the Creta Aquarium in the city of Iraklio, on the island of Crete, where a diver donned a Santa suit.
It would be just a little tough, and slippery, to sit on his lap without a wet suit and tell him what you want for Christmas is a job for your dad, who’s been under water a lot longer.