The Reason for the Season

As I was habitually scrolling through Facebook tonight, I came across a message that stopped me in my tracks. I don't typically post content like this, but it just resonated with me so much I wanted to share. This was posted my a friend of mine. Her dad, George Sarris, wrote it years ago and was published my the Birmingham News. George Sarris is a pillar in the Birmingham Community, as owner of The Fish Market. This description of life is one of the many reasons I fell in love when Greek culture when I was there. Honor. Authenticity. Simplicity. I believe this message is important on so many levels, but I will let you read it and draw your on conclusions. Much love, Emilie

I sent this to Birmingham use few years ago and I want to share with all my friends
By George Sarris

Every holiday season, I hear people saying "we need to remember what Christmas is really all about," and "remember the reason for the season."

As a small business owner in Birmingham, it is easy to get caught up in the chaos of the Christmas season. But, while sitting with my son this past week, I began to reflect on my childhood in Greece, and the ways we would celebrate Christmas in our village. Christmas seemed so real to us then. America is a melting pot of various traditions and ideas, so I thought it would be nice to share some of my childhood holiday memories with you.

On Christmas Eve, we would sing carols in the morning around the houses in the small mountain village and receive sweets and maybe a coin or two. The sweets were always very exciting, but we were not allowed to eat them until Christmas Day, as we had been fasting for 40 days.

On Christmas Day, we would wake up very early, about 4 in the morning, to gather around and pray in front of the family's religious icons. We also would kneel in front of each family member and ask each other for forgiveness for any wrongdoing we may have done to one another, so we could have a clean conscience for communion that morning. I vividly remember my 80-year-old grandmother asking me for forgiveness when I was only 8 years old.

Soon after prayers, we would join the rest of the village in the streets to walk to church. Only 200 people lived in our village, so we would wish everyone "ke' epi yis erene," or "peace on Earth." This was a more timely message back then, because Greece still suffered from World War II and the civil war after that. Of course, if we have peace on Earth for 100 years, how our life would be amazingly unlimited.

It was always very cold, sometimes snowing. Sometimes it was clear, and we would look for the "bright star."

Walking to church, you can hear the bells from the goats and sheep in the mountains. This came to my mind more vividly when I was playing with the channels on television and saw the show "Christmas With the Stars." Of course, I think we are regressing some; the stars they were talking about were Hollywood stars.

We always thought that Jesus being born in very humble surroundings was the most magical message. We did not give gifts on Christmas; this day was only a religious holiday. After church, we would have a meal with only our immediate family, and then visit other family later in the day.

My brother, sisters and I would always ask our parents about the story of Jesus' birth. My parents told me about the star the Wise Men followed to find the Nativity and the animals that accompanied Mary and Joseph in the manger.

Our home had three rooms, one of which we kept our livestock in. When my parents told us about the animals with the bells around their necks, we could relate. It felt as though Bethlehem was only a stone's throw away.

I would spend Christmas night searching the sky for the star the Wise Men followed. I would pester my parents until they would point out exactly which star it was. It was all so real: Jesus in his manger, Mary, Joseph and the animals, the Wise Men, their star, all of it. Every Christmas it was as though Jesus was born again.

We were not concerned about Santa or gifts; that did not come for us until New Year's. Christmas was about family and history.

I feel that today, it is so easy to lose sight of the star. As I told my sons, Dino and Yorgo, and my daughter, Dorothy, we would rather look for the star, the animals and the shepherds, the message of the infant Jesus of peace on Earth, of love for one another, which only God can provide in us, than for Santa and his gifts.

During this holiday season, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, "ke' epi yis erene" and a happy New Year.

George Sarris is owner of the Fish Market Restaurant on Birmingham Southside.