Australians are a little bit special – most of us carry something extra around with us, something that confuses a few but mostly adds a little spice to who we are.
I’ve always grown up saying I was an Aussie – and with my mum’s strong bush accent, and childhood stories she shared at the dinner table, it wasn’t hard for me to figure out where I came from. When I learnt that this wasn’t the whole story, things got interesting. With both grandparents and my father having made the 4 week journey by sea to Australia from Greece, deciding to make a life for themselves on the land of opportunity, it was obvious that there was something more to me. This became clear to me as my family intertwined small aspects of the Greek “ways of life” between the picket fence and Hills Hoist.
This meant attending Greek school and Greek dancing from the age of 6, being bribed every Friday night to finish my bowl of lentil soup (until I started to actually enjoy it), always having a bucket of Feta and Kalamata olives in storage in the second fridge, being discouraged from dating until high school was over and who could forget having to wear the hideous twin-sets sent from Greece! (Sorry Yiayia!)
And this is what it was like, and in most cases still like, growing up in Australia – most people hold onto family heritage and traditions, incorporating these with Aussie customs.
Since moving to Germany I’ve received a few blank faces after telling people that I’m an Aussie with a Greek heritage. I’ve narrowed down the confusion to the following:
1. I don’t have the typical Aussie “look” most foreigners associate with Australians (surprising that two dark-haired, fairly hairy Greek parents didn’t produce a blue-eyed blonde), and
2. It is easily forgotten (or potentially unknown!?) by foreigners that Australia is truly multicultural. Many don’t believe that Australia is home to the third largest Greek population outside of Greece!
To put it simply, it all just means I’ve been lucky to have a colourful life so far – things definitely haven’t been boring!
These mixed traditions are most prominent to me at Easter. Alongside the majority of Greeks, my father grew up in a Greek Orthodox family. This meant I was also dunked into an urn of holy water as a child. My mother on the other hand grew up in an evangelical family, practiced by only a minority of Greeks. To keep things in order we happily attended both churches on large celebrations and have been committed enough to celebrate Easter twice in the same year. Yes, in our family Jesus often rises twice.
Without getting in to too much detail – the Greek Orthodox Church, while adopting the New Julian Calendar (which is also used by other Christian denominations) now sees most common religious events coincide, they calculated the date of Easter according to specific religious “Feast Days” – often leaving Orthodox Easter to trail behind the main Christian event. Every few years Easter will fall on the same date (like this year) and on other years, up to five weeks later.
Naturally we were all a little more excited to get together for the first easter celebration together. Good Friday would be spent visiting a few relatives, sampling the Hot Cross buns on offer at each and eating another bowl of lentil soup. Sunday would always begin with the Sunday morning church service, followed by the exchange of chocolate bunnies, a family BBQ (lamb of course) and some sort of silliness to top off the day.
There was more of a “lead – up” to the Greek Easter celebrations – mum and I would devote an afternoon baking sweet tasty morsels for the relatives who would drop by, the godparents would deliver an elaborately decorated candle for their godchildren to light at church, we’d give up meat for a week and the house would overflow with variations of Tsoureki (greek easter bread) and red-dyed eggs. As children we found it thrilling to go to church from 10 or 11pm on Good Friday and Easter Saturday – napping beforehand to ensure we’d stay awake. We’d sing along to the traditional Easter verses all the while fascinated by the crowded church and amusing ourselves with our Easter candle as the service played out in ancient Greek. On the Sunday we would gather around the breakfast table, choose the toughest-looking red-dyed egg and repeat the words of Easter as we tried to crack our opponent’s egg (‘tsougrisma’ in Greek). I don’t think I ever won playing my brothers). Despite having already celebrated Easter, the traditions weren’t spared. Mum would’ve invited the family over for her lamb variation of Magiritsa (the Easter soup usually made with offal and eaten at midnight on Easter Saturday to mark the end of Lent) we’d eat another variation of lamb, slice the Tsoureki and again end with some more family silliness.
On a side note – there is a running joke that the Greeks love when Easter falls after the ‘main event’ just to score the chocolate easter eggs half price. While no one ever says no to anything on sale, sadly this only counts for those Greeks living outside of Greece.
This year will mark my third Easter away from my family and all our particular traditions. (Geez, third already!) While I miss the little things with my family I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to incorporate some of Alex’s Easter family traditions into my own. I am yet to decorate my home with cute bunnies, nests or young chicks but will never say no to an egg hunt and family love. At the end of the day it’s just all about family.
Germany’s answer to the Greek Tsoureki is the Osterfladen or Hefezopf – simply another version of a sweet, yeasted bread. And while delicious, what they haven’t discovered yet is the Hot Cross Bun. In Sydney I would’ve eaten a good dozen before Good Friday arrived – to the benefit of my waistline I waited, and baked a fresh batch to serve warm over our Good Friday brunch. Nothing beats an old tradition.
Wishing you a Happy Easter – Frohe Ostern – Kalo Pasxa!