Mytilene, Greece – December 25, 2015
Truth be told, Christmas isn’t memorable for me. The format is always parents + grandparents + Oregon, with occasional tweaks such as having it in California or with my niece & nephews. Those things are awesome. All of them. But after 28 similar Christmases, the memories all blend together and you lose sight of the day being much beyond a family gathering.
This year was different.
I spent this Christmas working at Camp Pikpa, a refugee camp on Greece’s Lesbos island. Though Santa didn’t bring much and I missed my family, Friday was undoubtedly the best Christmas I’ve ever had.
Christmas started at 5:00 AM. Instead of waking up to see what Santa left, a handful of us jumped in a van to go to the beach and bring dry clothes and food to refugees as they stepped off their inflatable raft and into Europe.
Today brought no boats. A Greek friend told me that the Turkish coast guard was doing extra patrols that morning to make sure no refugees crossed the Aegean that morning. We had to settle instead for a clear morning of stargazing at the sea, followed by watching the sun rise over the Turkish coast.
The day’s work at Pikpa featured a surprising amount of new volunteers. The morning meeting brought news of three different Christmas celebrations that day and we even almost sang Happy Birthday to Jesus, before the guitar player got cold feet.
For work that day, I helped build shelves for a Doctors Without Borders storage tent while others sorted supplies or played with refugee children. Work was broken up by two different Christmas meals. I could barely eat breakfast after attending the party from the previous night, but free food that wasn’t the expired energy bars that make up the core of our diet is always welcomed.
Instead of soup or cheap pasta, the normal non-gainomax meals, today’s dinner featured fresh bread and plenty of delicious beef. I’ve never seen so many people together at our camp at the same time!
I went back to my tent to write after dinner. I wrote for maybe 15 minutes, then couldn’t resist the singing and celebrations that I could hear outside. Many of the volunteers, refugees, and organizations were gathered at the tables at the center of Camp Pikpa, forming a gigantic drum circle and singing. The kids banged their spoons on the table, the adults clapped out more intricate rhythms, and different groups sang alternating verses from traditional songs in their native languages.
The singing and clapping continued until we all stumbled back to our tent for a more traditional Christmas gathering… Santa had come, bringing favorite foods for everyone and a fitting end to the day.
While I missed family, and friends, and presents, this was without a doubt the greatest Christmas I’ve ever had.