Decking the Halls

There’s a sense in the air that something major’s about to happen – you see people that never go to church going to church.

Emily and Perry Labiris have been lighting up their house for the past 18 Christmases.

“It’s a long tradition, lots of people come out to see our house, you feel like you’re in a zoo sometimes,” Mrs Labiris said.

Situated in the middle of the Boulevard in Melbourne’s Ivanhoe, the process of putting up all the Christmas decorations takes “forever”, Mrs Labiris said.

“It takes around three to four days. My husband put them up last week. We have lights around the house and full-sized, hand-made dummies that move. It’s fun, we all enjoy it.”

For those with a sweet tooth

Georgina and Apostolos Tsaboukas of Delphi Continental Cakes in Melbourne’s Northcote, will be baking furiously into the New Year.

Christmas specialities their store has on offer are traditional Greek shortbread biscuits kourambie, melomakarona, christopsoma, and sweet bread vasilopites for the New Year, as well as ready made biscuit hampers, a large variety of cakes, traditional fruitcake, and a wide assortments of whole and individual cakes.

“Traditionally people buy chrisopsoma, the Christmas cake, and the vasilopites for New Year’s, which is baked with a coin inside and when broken up, the person who gets the coin is believed to have good fortune for the new year,” Mrs Tsaboukas said.

“I’m finding the trend is people buying a mixture of biscuits and cakes to take with them to barbecues or to the houses of people hosting Christmas parties,” she said.

The bakers at Delphi Continental Cakes will be putting in longer hours over the next couple of weeks, starting on Christmas bread next week, vasilopites the week after and desserts for the religious days in the first week of January.

For those with a green thumb

While families are still decorating pine trees in the living room, there’s a sustainable twist on the tradition, said celebrity gardener Vasili Kanidiadis.

The host of Vasili’s Garden said more and more people are buying pine trees in pots, rather than buying cut trees from pine farms.

“They’re becoming more environmentally aware, more sustanable,” he said.

“And as each year goes by, the tree grows with the family.”

And he said he’s seeing alternatives for pine trees at Christmas.

“It’s not just the trad cone shape any more, it’s a tree that’s sentimental to the family,” he said.

“So they use the olive tree or the lemon tree as an alternative.”

He said, while traditional flowers such as red and green poinsettias are popular, this year the trend is for using herbs and flowers from the veggie patch in floral arrangements.

“And then you basically eat them,” he said.

For the religious

Meanwhile, Dr Philip Kariatlis from St Andrew’s Orthodox College in Sydney will be preparing for Christmas the traditional Orthodox way – fasting. No meat, no milk products, and no fish as of this weekend, he’ll be living off legumes, fruit and vegetables, and seafood without backbones.

He said, while it isn’t as strict as the Easter fast, it’s important to prepare the body and mind for a major event.

“You’re just trying to reorient your life and think of God in a more intense way, in light of the major event that’s about to take place,” he said.

“I mean, God becomes a Human Being, and therefore opens up the way for salvation and communion with God, that’s just unheard of!”

Dr Kariatlis said his parish is very active around Christmas, and he’ll be taking groups of carolers around to sing carols for other Orthodox families.

“There’s a sense in the air that something major’s about to happen – you see people that never go to church going to church.”

“Like any feat, an athlete will prepare himself or herself for the event.”

For the political

Federal Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou said she’ll be thinking of others when buying gifts this year.

“I am encouraged by talk that too much money is spent on unnecessary gifts,” she said, adding she’s considering schemes such as Oxfam’s, where people can buy something for a community in a developing country on behalf of someone else.

“My husband Michalis might be getting a card saying he has bought someone in Africa or Asia a goat this Christmas.”

As for Christmas Day, Ms Vamvakinou said she’ll be cooking a traditional Christmas lunch, with turkey and roast lamb, and spending time with family and friends.

She said Christmas is the time where she gets “a chance to stand still”.

“I also have an unattended backyard that needs attention,” she said.

“I don’t want to start the New Year with a list of things I haven’t done.”