And Who Said Greeks Need an Excuse To Celebrate

Author: Faris Nejad

Anniversary, birthday, name day, Easter, Saint's days, holiday, strike day, new day and even no-day, the truth is Greeks don't really need a reason to celebrate, they always celebrate. That is why all entertainment and catering establishments do so well in Greece and they are almost always packed- Greeks go out with friends and have fun not just to celebrate a special event but also to mark and forget -any misfortunes. This includes all classes of people from the very poor to the very rich; it is only the size of the bill that is different. They go out with friends and family, eat, drink and dance until the early hours of the morning regardless of what tomorrow may bring or any financial consequences. In fact when the news is very bad economically, like a loss of job, Greeks celebrate and dance even more to fight pain with joy and start tomorrow afresh Creek Zorbas' are everywhere, celebrating life to its full. It is only the venues that change. Every village has its own Saint's name and usually the local church is named after the village's saint. On the saint's name day locals gather around the church and guess what they do? Yes, of course they pray first but then comes the homemade food, wine from the local vineyards and large amounts of Dutch and Greek beer.

Baptisms and the naming of a child, which may be months or even years after the baby is born, is another good excuse to pack the church and then go out and celebrate. But surely Easter takes the crown in Greek celebrations. It is a huge family day, which everyone helps to prepare for weeks in advance. Large amounts of food and sweets are made at home for the celebration of this religious festival, which resembles a stressful family reunion, except that the stress this time is not about personal inter- relationships. All the comments, disagreements and arguments are about the lamb. Whilst the women, loyal to their gathering's ancestral sentiments have made all the preparations, the men satisfy their hunting instincts by literally wrestling with a whole lamb on the skewer to get it right. All men present, of all ages, show off their PhDs on this subject and insist on their own philosophy of how best to roast a whole lamb. Discussions are around the exact temperature of the fire, the position of the skewer, the wrapping technique,the rotation speed and so on. When at last the good food is served, usually the women take plates of the food for their men whilst the men claim portions of the success of this culinary extravaganza. Who can guess what happens next? How about a hint? It has to do with loud music, joining hands, zigzagging around the tables in a very coordinated manner or at least that is how it seems if you have had a few glasses of Retsina as well. Of course there are national holidays as well. There is Independence Day when all the school kids, the fire department and the mayor with some other dressed up people march down the main street and then go to the local tavernas to celebrate.

Ochi, meaning No in Creek, has its own day. The Greek generals said N0 to the ltalian army wanting to cross their land at the beginning of the Second World War and now, every year, they say a big YES to celebrate the anniversary of having said NO many years ago. So they dress up, march down the road with Greek flags and then go out to the tavernas to celebrate.

But no we haven't finished with the celebrations yet. There are, of course, strikes and Greeks do it in a striking manner. in Greece everyone has the right to go on strike and they usually do. Coincidentally some of these strikes fall on Fridays. There are plenty of reasons to go on strike but it usually has to do with low pay, which ultimately may restrict Creeks from going out to celebrate. So they go on strike to make an important point and the night before, well, since there is no work the next day, they go out to celebrate.

The authorities in Greece were alarmed by all the fun everyone was having and several years ago tried to pass a law restricting the operating hours of the catering and entertainment establishments. This brought crowds of angry protesters to the streets and parks of the capital city, who cooked, sang and danced until the early hours of the morning to protest the proposed law, which was ultimately withdrawn.

Of course. for all those who haven't celebrated enough during the year. Christmas is always around the corner. The truth is that Christmas, as opposed to Easter, has never been a big festival in Creece. Decorations used to be very simple in the olden days consisting of candle lights and a decorated small wooden model boat. Christmas is not much more than a quiet family celebration around a turkey dinner. In fact, Ayios Vassilis, or Father Christmas doesn't come on Christmas Eve either; he arrives on New Year's Eve. Father Christmas, however, does keep the best presents for the Greek kids because the Creek kids do dress up on Christmas Eve and travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing 'Kalanda', the local version of Christmas carols. The children carry with them metal triangles and drums to accompany their singing with noise, I mean music. Afterwards, the children are usually given sweets or coins in appreciation or just so that they go away. Gradually, Christmas is becoming more and more important in Greece and is lavishly celebrated with decorations and lights strung across the streets. Putting Christmas trees in houses is becoming more popular and Atheneans this year claim to have the largest Christmas tree in Europe, which is erected in the central square.

New Year's Eve, after a whole year of celebrations proves too much for the Creek people. They spend the last night of the year indoors with family and friends playing cards until dawn in anticipation of Father Christmas. Traditional sweet bread with a hidden coin is baked for this night and the family member who gets the portion of the cake with the coin in it will have a lucky year ahead. What a truly modest and simple way of celebrating and looking forward to the next year's celebrations.