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Culture

An Epirotic Christmas in Astoria

 

NEW YORK – Some of things that enrich Greek-American community life are thanks to the efforts of its institutions and organizations, but much of what makes it wonderful to be a Greek in America comes from the efforts of big-hearted individuals.

On New Year’s Eve the staff of The National Herald were jolted from their computer screens by reminiscences of the sweetest sounds of their youth – or their parents’.

Demetrios Makrides, his brother Giorgos and Demetrios Xaxiris, accompanied by their dear friend Dinos Avlonitis, filled the place with the music of the season, traditional Greek Christmas and New Year’s carols played on simple instruments.

Demetrios Makrides, who has roots in Ioannina, is a medical physicist in the area of radiation oncology and he travelled to Astoria from Stanford, CT. He is active with the Ioannina Cultural Association, a past president, and he was the leader. His brother and Xaxiris, who is also from Ioannina, are visiting from Greece for the holidays and they supplied the music.

After visiting TNH they went to private homes and Greek-owned businesses.

“We do this annually on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in Astoria. The people we visit make donations and the money that we raise goes to a church-based philanthropic center in Ioannina called Durahan that includes a home for the elderly and an orphanage.  TNH was told it is run by Father Athanasios Hatzis, who does remarkable work and that the ICA has made major contributions.

“We will raise what we can and add from our own pockets so we can help,” those in need in Greece.

“We feel joy when people are enjoying themselves, and with laughter and tears they remember the old days,” he said.

Indeed the carols and songs performed on traditional instruments – a simple hand drum played by Demetrios Makrides, a wooden recorder wielded by Xaxiris, and a humble triangle played by Demetrios Makrides – provided some of the most touching moments of the season.

“For us this is more valuable than millions of dollars,” said the latter .

The holiday peregrinations are a win-win endeavor with value independent of the financial mission. “It makes us and our hosts happy – any money we raise for a good cause is a bonus,” he said.

His fellow Demetrios, nicknamed Mitsos was going from office to office with Giorgos Makrides but he paused to answer TNH’s questions.

“I made the recorder with my own hands,” he said. “I believe the flute and the drum are mankind’s oldest and most traditional instruments. Men grabbed reeds and blew into them, and stretched skins and beat on them,” he said with infectious joie de vivre.

Back in Greece, before retiring he was an elementary school teacher in Agrinio and near Ioannina.

The men from Ionnina were accompanied, and their mission was documented photographically – surely the internet was on the verge of being enriched – by a dear friend from a nearby place, Dino Avlonitis of the island of Corfu.

He is known to TNH readers as a contributor of articles about local community sports but by profession he is a quality control manager for the Magellan New York aerospace company. Most of the year he helps keep the planes we all fly safe, but during the holidays he accompanies his friends “because I appreciate the joy they bring to people.”

By the time the guests departed leaving some of their kefi behind, everyone was ready to ring in the New Year.

Ipirotes-Kalanta-sto-kirika-12

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