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Celebrating with the Greeks: Dekapentavgoustos and Foteini’s Birthday

By Mary Shiraef


The third celebration I had with the Greeks is Dekapentavgoustos, which simply means the fifteenth of August. It is the name day of St. Mary and the third largest holiday in Greece, after Easter and Christmas. St. Mary is cool enough to have 2 name days – August 15th and November 21st. Depending on where you are in Greece, a distinction is made between the two dates: August 15th is the name day of the Marys who are married and November 21st is for the single Marys. This distinction is practiced in Crete, so it technically was not my name day – not that I needed another grand celebration after my birthday feast four days before.

We woke up early that morning to travel to the village of Vrisses, where the family of my cousin Nectarios is from. Vrisses is near the southern coast of Crete, set in the White Mountains. We attended a Greek Orthodox service in a beautiful little byzantine-style church. It was standing (and pushing) room only. I was able to participate in most of the ceremony, adding candles to the already melting sandbox collection, listening to the ancient Greek liturgy, and even taking communion. The service was short and sweet – either because it actually was or because we came late, as was commonly practiced during my time in Crete. On our way out some Greek ladies handed us an entire loaf of bread with some sort of religious significance (my aunt explained it to me in Greek).

After the service, the fast from meat was broken – in every sense of the phrase. It seemed like every type of meat from every portion of the animals’ bodies was served: lamb chop, chicken legs, chicken liver, all kinds of pork, rabbit (mmm…), beef, and others that I had no room to try. All of this was served alongside a plethora of side dishes and appetizers.

After the meal (if that even makes sense, for the food was served all afternoon), my little cousins took me to their tree house up on a hill, with views that almost compared to my childhood tree house (Sorry, Michael).

We then collected grapes from their father’s vineyard and trekked back down for dessert and watermelon.  

My overall impression of Dekapentavgoustos was that it was a holiday with meaningful religious significance, as well as an awesome excuse to get the family together and have a massive feast.


Most notable memories of my village visit:
*Playing volleyball with my cousin Nectarios, who is a high school volleyball coach
*Watching globalization in action:
My aunt and uncle (in their 70s) were trying to set the mood on our drive to the village by listening to traditional religious music – all the while their grandchildren blasted Adele from their ipad in the backseat to drown it out.

*Drinking fresh mountain water from the fountain on which the village was founded

* Finding something funny no matter what language you speak: 
The patio of the house we ate at was located next to the road, right at the top of a hill. One little boy who was let’s say, rather large, rode his bike around and around the village all day. The hill by the patio was always a particular struggle for the poor kid, who came up every time red-faced, panting, and furiously pedaling. Every time this happened, one of the older Greek men, who had otherwise only been contentedly clicking his worry beads in a corner, would start to giggle. His soft laugh was infectious and everyone else would inevitably also start to chuckle. Every time this occurred it was wonderful, unifying moment where the slight divide in the conversation I caused by my language barrier would disappear as everyone broke into laughter together.


Foteini’s Birthday

That same day was my cousin Foteini’s birthday, much to her dismay. We travelled back to Rethymnon and relaxed at the sea side home of one of my cousins, while snacking on pears from the backyard and watching the sunset.

Then we ate out at an Italian restaurant. Yes, we ate again. Being health-conscious, I had a seafood pasta platter to balance out all the red meat and vegetables I’d eaten earlier in the day.

The celebration of birthdays is a somewhat recent phenomenon in Greece. It used to only be name days that were celebrated until Western influence of recognizing birthdays was recognized. Still, birthdays are not considered as important as name days.

After dinner, a lot of the younger folk went out to continue celebrating Foteini’s birthday. However, having woken up so early for the village trip I was utterly exhausted. It must have shown in my face because I was permitted to retire to my little guest house for the night. Feeling festive, I thanked St. Mary.

Coming Soon: A Greek Wedding

College Year in Athens student, Mary Shiraef, is a Political Science major at Emory University