Growing up Greek

As a child of Greek immigrants, Andrea just wanted to be Australian. Now that she has a child of her own she’s rediscovered the traditions she thought she’d left behind.

McKenzie is dunked three times into the warm water of the baptismal font. Father Chris catches him safely, and I’m presented with my son to dress him in his silk christening gown. Lambathes (candles) dressed in white tulle burn brightly, as Byzantine chanting echoes through the frescoed church.

Growing up as a child of Greek immigrants, I just wanted to be Australian. I refused to eat Greek food, speak Greek or attend Greek school. Yet as I get older, there is something timeless in the ancient rhythm of the ceremony as I learn about traditions I’d forgotten.

I wonder what McKenzie will think when he is older.

My husband senses a little ‘Greekness’ running in McKenzie’s blood.

For now, he loves Greek dancing, will chat away with Yiayia and Pappou on the phone and looks forward to egg-cracking competitions at Easter.

Named after his second-generation Irish-Scottish grandfather, William McKenzie, and his Greek grandfather, Theodoros, we settled on ‘Makarios’ for his christening name, and are grateful for such a rich heritage.

In Greek Orthodox christenings, there is only one godparent and they play an integral role in guiding the life of the child. We feast at a local tavern after McKenzie’s christening. Piles of dips, platters of seafood and meat and sweets happily fill our guests.

McKenzie is now almost two years old and attends Greek playschool. He loves listening to istories (storytime), drawing the alphabeta (alphabet), and singing songs such as ‘I mikri araxni’ (‘Incy Wincy Spider’).

My little toddler with curly blonde hair and big blue eyes happily waves his hands about to songs about bala (soccer) and lykos (the big bad wolf).

In time, I imagine Saturdays will be taken over by other pursuits such as footy and swimming, but I hope that in his memory, a love of learning language, culture and tradition will guide him.


Andrea Cleland is a Greek-Australian and researcher at the University of Melbourne and tweets at @InbetweenGreek. 

Words by Andrea Cleland

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