“????? ??????? ????????…” the vibrant words dance on the class walls as my classmates sing the warm words of the Christmas Kalanda. The Kalanda, a traditional carol, is sung throughout Greece during the Christmas and New Years holidays; singing it with my friends from Greek school has always been a precious memory to me. Yes, I am a Greek American, a fact that always remains evident in my life. I admit that I am one of those Greeks that feasts on succulent lamb slow-roasted on a spit for five hours, one of those Greeks that dances Kalamatiano until my feet can not take another step, and I am one of those Greeks that is surrounded with so much deafening noise and unending love that I can not distinguish the two! My Greek heritage shapes who I am and life without it has become unthinkable. In my life, being Greek visualizes itself through my food, my family, and my religion.
Greeks always seem to be wondering about what food to prepare or what to eat, food plays a major role in everyday Greek life. Maybe you have seen the comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding as crazy as this sounds, its Greek-American film writer, Nia Vardalos, added these ridiculous occurrences which are mostly extended truth. Personally, Greek food is out of this world. If you have never had the heavenly experience to taste Greek cuisine, you have not lived yet! The Greek diet could be described as sea / village based Mediterranean food with a Middle Eastern flare. (My stomach hurts just thinking about it now!) It is depressing to say that I do not eat Greek 24/7, but we will eat it on holidays, at church events, and at restaurants!
In the Greek culture, family gatherings are always interesting. I have never had to attend one of those “boring family reunions at Aunt Sal’s house.” However, American families do not realized or rejoice over how blessed they are to have a wonderful family. Without my family, I would have no center or anything to keep me right in life. Of course we argue, being human nature, but I would more than die for each and every one of them. My family is gigantic; I have 27 first cousins and both of my parents each have five siblings! My grandparents immigrated to America from many regions of Greece including Agios Petros, Lefkada in the Ionian Sea, Marmari, Evia in the Aegean Sea, Kalamata from the mainland, and Samos in Asia Minor.
While most people have a single family consisting of their relatives, Greeks have two families. This second family is our beautiful church family. In Greece over 97% of the population follow the Orthodox Christian religion, myself included. To any true Greek nothing is viewed with such high reverence as the love for Christ and his church. My family attends church services multiple times a week and we are included in many church activities. For 400 years, the radical Islamic Turks ravaged villages, murdered millions of Greeks, and tried to wipe the Greek language, pride, and religion off the of face of the Earth. They failed, the Greeks survived! Cleverly, Greek children attended under-ground school/churches at night by the “light of the moon.” Priests secretly taught the children by whispering to them the history of their country, the words of the Greek language, and traditions of the church. Because of those great Greek heroes do we have Greece as it is today!
Although my true home lies in America and that I have had the opportunity to visit Greece only for two weeks of the fifteen years I have been alive, I feel as though a part of me has joined Greece in all her struggles and all her victories. My Greek heritage always shines out in my life, like a vigil lamp with its flame never wavering. I am so thankful that God has lovingly blessed me with such a beautiful cultural back round and given me a home in this awesome nation. Only God can understand the true meaning it has for me.
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