Greece prepares for a frugal Christmas


Pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions make for grim holidays for many Greeks.

By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 21/12/12


Retailers said sales were down more than 20 percent from last year. [AFP]

With a pay cut 40 percent and the end of a temporary contract as a computer teacher, Fivos Karalis, 32, said he was carefully watching what he spent this Christmas, but said he was still luckier than many Greeks.

"At least I have a job," he shrugged as he walked out of a major department store in downtown Athens.

The scene around him was cheerless: there are few Christmas lights or signs that it is the most wonderful time of the year. "I'm not going to have much of a holiday … I'm buying fewer gifts and spending less," he told SETimes.

After years of overspending that has put Greece in a financial catastrophe, many are keeping their wallets in their pockets this holiday season. What is to be their last Christmas bonuses were slashed by 80 percent, and many are waiting for another round of pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions.

Even as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras announced the approval earlier this month for a first series of 52.5 billion euros in more loans to keep the economy from collapsing, most Greeks are hunkering down for a pared-down Christmas.

With unemployment at a record high 26 percent, Christmas is not on some people's minds.

"I can't think of gifts when I have to put food on the table," Katerina Vassolou, 30, who lost her job when her orthopedic supply company went bankrupt, told SETimes.

Athens has cut its Christmas budget by 90 percent, and the city's neighbourhoods reflect little of the spirit that usually fills the air at this time. The municipality cutbacks on spending have been matched by homeowners, and many apartment balconies remain dark.

"This year's Christmas events do not aim at an easy and ornate spectacle and they are not based on thoughtless waste," Athens Mayor George Kaminis told The Guardian.

Retailers said sales were down more than 20 percent from last year, a trend that forced many shops to close after the holidays.

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One of the most popular major department stores, Hondos Centre, was offering discounts up to 55 percent on many products in a bid to get people to buy. Sophia Tsipra, 33, a clerk in women's beauty products, said people are reluctant to buy.

"There are families without money for basic supplies, so they aren't buying beauty supplies," she told SETimes.

Sophia Andrianopoulou, 36, a lawyer with Amnesty International, said Christmas in Greece this year will be even more for children.

"We're trying to keep them from understanding this crisis," she told SETimes, referring to her children ages 1 and 5.

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