ALIX NORMAN asks people across the island a very personal question, and convinces them to reveal exactly what they’ll be spending on Christmas this year

In Europe, it’s Brits who spend the most on Christmas, roughly €1000 per person.

Germans come a close second, with about €900 each. Despite high unemployment, the Spanish spend €500. And Greece ranks close to the bottom at roughly €150 per person, with 15 per cent spending nothing whatsoever.

In Cyprus, statistics on the seasonal spend simply don’t exist. But with a rising cost of living, high electricity bills, and low salaries in comparison to the rest of Europe, surely we’re being careful, right?

Well, some are, some aren’t. And some are spending on very odd things indeed! We went out and asked people across the island a very personal question: How much do you spend on Christmas?

“Everything I have goes on making the season special for my wife and daughter; Christmas is truly the time for giving,” reveals 40-year-old Nicosia resident Vas Joseph, founder of Fire Alchemy.

Christmas is the busy season for Vas’ chilli business, and his entire family are often rushed off their feet. But that doesn’t stop him from thinking ahead.

feature 3 vas and family at christmas 2

Vas and family

“My biggest spend is on gifts,” he says. “I start buying from November, and I spend around €1000. My wife adores Christmas, for her it’s all about family. I just want to make the day special for her – show her what she means to me.”

Presents are the biggest expense for most people. And this year, bachelor George Stylianou is planning to go all out for the newest member of his family: Gordon.

“You’ll laugh,” he says, “but my most expensive gift is a log stove for my rescue pup! When I adopted him from the pound a few weeks ago, he was all skin and bone. I’ve been feeding him up, showing him loads of love, and making sure he’s got the home he always dreamt of.”

The 55-year-old Tseri-based accountant moved out from the UK four years ago, and well recalls Christmases where he spent over €5,000 on gifts for his children. But this season will be much quieter.

“I was always buying new decorations, you could see my house from space!” he laughs. “But for me, anything I spend on the feel-good factor is worth it: this Christmas, Gordon and I are going to curl up together in front of a 300-euro stove and enjoy all the lights and baubles. They say a dog’s not just for Christmas, it’s for life. I’m going to give Gordon the best Christmas of his little life!”

While it’s a pet that’s the focus of George’s Christmas costs, Paphos resident Hajni Albert is going in another direction.

feat 3 hajni has always filled her home nad her life with plants. at christmas, she plants trees aroudn the island

Hajni has always filled her home with plants. At Christmas she plants them around the island

“I’m happily divorced with two dogs and a cat – all rescues,” says the 40-year-old massage therapist. “My family are all in Romania, my friends and I do a Secret Santa with a limit of 15 euros, and our Christmas dinner is a potluck. So I’m not really spending on any of the usual things.”

Instead, the majority of Hajni’s Christmas costs is trees! “This has been something I’ve done for many years; it’s a bit of a tradition in Romania,” she explains. “And I’ve done the same thing since I moved here in 2007. Every Christmas, I go to a nursery and spend about €120 on trees – lemons or oranges or olives; endemic plants that can survive alone. Then I go out to small patches of abandoned land, places in the middle of industrial districts, and I plant them.”

As a keen hiker, Hajni is noticing more and more deforestation in the mountains. But she’s also eager to spread greenery around the towns. “Nature is so important,” she says. “This is my Christmas gift to Cyprus.”

While Hajni’s overall spend is fairly low, two people we spoke to invested nothing at all on Christmas. But for very different reasons.

“I spend nothing,” says Dilani Samaraweera, a 58-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker in Famagusta. “My madam has a party with many guests, and I work a lot of hours on Christmas Day. On December 26, I have a holiday. I see my friends at their houses; we talk and eat rice and curry. All my money for one month salary, I send to my family. That is it.”

Meanwhile, 83-year-old composer David Pentecost consciously avoids the celebrations. A retired Brit from Bedfordshire, this Limassol resident has always disliked the commercialisation and forced jollity of Christmas.

“I tend to ignore the season in its entirety, and spend nothing at all. Historically, I’ve done more composing over Christmas than at any other time of the year; I’m very happy being in my own company and spending my time at alone at home.”

At the other end of the spectrum, Paralimni-based Jon Petrakis cherishes his friendships; at Christmas, he splurges on socialising.

“Other than the gifts I send home to my family in New York, I spend the most on going out,” says the 34-year-old hotel manager. “About €300 goes on meeting friends at cafés and restaurants; going to a bunch of Christmas villages and drinking mulled wine. To me, the season is about that feeling of togetherness.”

Maria Stefanides feels the same way. But her major spend is about staying in, rather than going out.

“I’ve hosted family and friends every year since 2011,” says the 47-year-old consultant from Larnaca. “It’s a tradition that started when the kids were younger; it’s hard to take them out when they’re small, isn’t it?”

Maria usually hosts around 12 family members, though she’s had 20 in the past. And a delicious dinner is her main cost at Christmas.

“We tend to spend €500 or so,” she reveals. “That’s a full spread with turkey and gammon, as well as all the booze, chocolates, cheese and biscuits. Then there’s candles, table decorations, Christmas crackers. And coffee and Baileys for afters.

“It’s a lot to organise,” she concludes. “I start thinking about Christmas from November – planning the menu and writing the shopping list. But I do love being at home with my whole family, and everyone enjoying good food. Christmas is a once-a-year cost. If you can afford to spend, I think it’s worth it.”