Last night we went to the Little Ones' school Christmas performance. I had been dreading it. I have sat through so many ranging from marginal to excruciating, that I view their approach with the same distaste that I await dental appointments. Necessary, and to be borne with dignity.
“Do we have to go, Mum?” Sophia preferred to stay on MSN; Alex was busy with a modelling programme. They have sat through their share, too, as well as participating in some.
“Your brothers are performing, and you will support them” (I left the 'and me' unsaid.)
We arrived early at the village community centre, secured second row seats – the first row is always reserved for community leaders and committee members, priests, and other exalted personnel. The masking tape had already relinquished its hold on a felt stocking that decorated the front of the stage and the wreath above sagged precariously. I prepared myself for a repeat of last year – a show so badly organised that the final applause had reflected genuine relief, and that had left Zenon in tumultuous tears because he knew, with unerring childish instinct, that the evening had been an embarrassing shambles.
Almost on time, the curtain opened with a flourish, and revealed the school, all thirty children from Class One to Six, some in Santa hats, some bare-headed, all scrubbed and smiling. They sang three carols: a traditional Greek one, and White Christmas and Santa Claus is Coming – in Greek accompanied by a soundtrack, one student on guitar, and another on bouzouki.
The curtain swooshed closed and the headmaster stood up. A young man, he was appointed to our school last spring in the random manner of the education authority here that moves teachers and administrators around every few years. I had seen him in action a few times: interacting in a firm but respectful manner with even the smallest pupils, appealing to parents for support in school functions and better communication in order to create better morale in the classroom. Now, neatly dressed and barbered, he sprang onto the stage, smiled at the audience, thanked the children, and launched into a speech.
Although he spoke slowly I had difficulty. Formal spoken Greek uses long words and the passive and reflexive voices which are hard for me: by the time I've translated the last sentence, we've moved to another theme. After a few minutes Sophia leaned towards me: “Do you understand, Mum?” I shook my head. “He's saying what you say about the spirit of Christmas being undermined by commercialism, and rather than giving expensive toys as a substitute for love, we should live Christ's message.” She listened intently. “Now he's talking about the kid who was killed in Athens the other day, and saying how sad it was for a young life to be lost because someone misunderstood the frustrations of youth...” (Attacking a police car might not be the best way of venting one's frustrations, but I found it interesting that a headmaster would weave it into his Christmas message.)
Mr Yiorgos kept his speech short and the curtain opened for the lower classes' play. Our school is so small that first and second class are taught together, and Leo beamed at us from stage. Each child said a few lines, did a little act, then the group decorated a tree with baubles that they held, and danced off.
The head of the PTA spoke: short and sweet. Then the older classes had their turn.
These same children whose performance last year had left us cringing had us in hysterics. The fattest boy in the school played a grandmother. In black stockings, a shapeless dress, and a village headscarf, 'she' hobbled onto the stage leaning on a walking stick, one hand on 'her' hip. The audience roared. In rich dialect 'she' berated 'her' husband, daughter-in-law, and grandson, just the way that a village granny would, overseeing the cutting of the New Year cake and tutting at 'her' daughter-in-law for imagined domestic shortcomings. The other actors were good, but granny brought the house down.
The final skit was of another family village Christmas, and again I marvelled at the skill of the children to portray characters that are cliches, but nevertheless true in our village lives. This time a housewife, complete with gestures, muttered imprecations, and fuss, dealt with teenage daughters – one dressed to the nines, the other still in pyjamas at midday; friends with aspirations to sophistication; and a husband who showed up late and wanted to sit around the kitchen table with friends and drink zivania. There were the usual European jokes: “We're Europeans now, so we'll behave the proper European way!” and, from the housewife: “I'm a European woman now, and I have rights!” Then they trooped off-stage to bed and from side entrances and the front door, Kallikanzaroi swarmed onto the stage – Zenon among them.
No elves or dwarves or fairies dwell in Cyprus. Instead we have a variety of mischievous little dark people who live underground, emerging only at night between the Solstice and Epiphany. They can be placated with gifts of sausages and distracted by counting the holes in a colander, but any domestic chaos during the Twelve Days of Christmas is laid at their door. Their particular forte is destroying carefully tidied living rooms, and the fifteen or so who swarmed onto the stage set about their task with relish – leaping onto the table, shaking out the rugs, scattering papers, turning somersaults, and singing before fleeing at 'first light'. The housewife, coming in, surveyed the damage with a chorus of 'Panagia Mou!' s, her husband fell over a chair, then the whole school appeared on stage for their final bows and the heartfelt appreciation of parents, friends, and teachers before the Grande Finale of the raffle.
Last week we went to the raffle at the Big Ones's private school. Prizes included a cruise, a mobile phone, a laptop (won by the ICT teacher), a few meals-for-two, and a range of manicures, cut-and-blow-drys, and Debenhams vouchers. This raffle had a different flavour. Following the awarding of a night at Columbia Beach Resort to some lucky soul, the PTA pres read out the next prize: “Four kilos of fish from Andreas Charalambous!” He named the lucky winner. “Next is another four kilos of fish from Mr Andreas!” Someone else came up to claim it. “Then we have another four kilos of fish from Mr Andreas ...” another lucky recipient. Mr Andreas donated 16 kilos of fish to the school raffle. There were supermarket coupons, two vouchers for twenty Euros worth of fruit from the greengrocer, and other useful sundries. The Esso station on the bypass road donated three sets of two car washes, and my phone number was read out on one of those winning tickets.
When the last prize went home to tumultuous applause, Mr Giorgos leaped onstage again. “I would like to say, for a wonderful evening, thank-you first of all to the children who have worked so hard!” When the clapping died, he went on to thank, individually, teachers both present, and absent through other commitments, the leaders of the two communities whose children attend the school, and the parents for their support.“And I wish you all a safe and Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!”
We were home by half-past eight.