“An Odd Christmas” or the “Christmasless Year of 1923” in Greece

The story that follows was written by the American archaeologist Carl W. Blegen (1887-1971) at an unknown time, most likely to be read at the Literary Club of Cincinnati. It was recently re-discovered by Professor Jack L. Davis of the University of Cincinnati among the papers of Blegen’s close friend and co-digger at Pylos, Marion Rawson.  In his own phlegmatic style, Blegen narrates a major change that took place in Greece exactly ninety years ago: the country’s switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. I thank Jack for sharing Blegen’s manuscript with me.

1923 was a difficult year in the political history of Greece.  In the aftermath of the Asia Minor Disaster in the late summer of 1922, Greece witnessed the influx of more than a million refugees, the abdication of King Constantine, and the establishment of a revolutionary regime by colonels Nikolaos Plastiras and Stylianos Gonatas in September of 1922.  On November 28, 1922, six politicians including two former prime ministers were executed at Goudi, an act that shocked Europe and America.  Blegen had known some of them personally. In July 1923, the Lausanne Treaty delimited the borders of Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, and by the end of the year, the revolutionary regime of Plastiras and Gonatas was finally able to restore some semblance of political order and lead the country to elections.

1923 was also a tumultuous year in Blegen’s personal life. In January he was engaged to Elizabeth Denny Pierce, who broke the engagement (and his heart) a few months later. That summer and fall found Blegen somewhat disillusioned as he tried to win Elizabeth back, which he eventually did, albeit under certain conditions that would irrevocably alter the course of his life.

“An Odd Christmas” by Carl W. Blegen

“In spite of a reputation for violence, disorder and general lawlessness, the people of the Balkan countries have always been with relatively few exceptions a quiet, respectable, and until recently, a highly conservative folk. Most of them were content to accept what was handed down to them by their fathers, and on the whole they have held soberly and tenaciously to their own local traditions. Especially in matters concerning their religious faith and in the relations between church and State they have stood firmly against the encroachments of the modern age and have usually resisted the introduction of any change. This attitude has been particularly well illustrated in their retention of the old calendar, which to westerners long constituted a chronic and perennial source of difficulty and confusion. For the Eastern Orthodox Church continued stubbornly to adhere to the Julian system through many centuries after the Catholic Church and west European nations had adopted the Gregorian modification. Read the rest of this entry »