Fall 2011
Celebrating with the Greeks: My Birthday

 By Mary Shiraef

During my time in Greece, I have had the opportunity of experiencing many celebrations in Greece including: my birthday, a baptism, the Greek holiday "Dekapentavgoustos," my cousin’s birthday, a wedding, a surprise birthday party, the Greek holiday “the 28th of October,” and the annual demonstrations on November 17th. My next few blogs will be a description of my experiences with each of these holidays.

My birthday

I arrived in Greece for the first time on my birthday, August 11. I flew from London to Heraklion in Crete. Flying over the Greek islands at night was awesome. They looked like little slabs of lit-up puzzle pieces scattered on a dark blue background.

I touched down in Heraklion and travelled to the city of Rethymnon, where my great grandfather is from. I had never met my family in Greece before, and would be staying with them for the next 3 weeks. I wasn’t sure if my grandpa’s cousin Nikos knew it was my birthday until he took me to the guesthouse – where a fresh bouquet of flowers awaited me. It was the sweetest thing.

The woodwork in this kitchen was done entirely by Nikos’ father Manolis

Utterly exhausted from my celebrations the night before in England, I fell asleep directly.

When I woke up, it was lunch time – which in Greece is around 3:00. The once peaceful seaside home of my aunt and uncle became a bustling hub of happy Greeks, who were more than eager to explain how they are related to me and teach me Greek.

My aunt Anna served many excellent dishes, without meat, since many Greeks fast before Dekapentavgoustos, which was coming up in 4 days. The main dish she made was a melt-in-your-mouth zucchini, potato, and cheese casserole.

Not having been informed of the party, I was still in my pajamas and felt like I was dreaming. I just remember being continually amazed by the entire meal. One cousin would tell me he brought the olives from his olive trees harvested with sea water; another that he made the wine from his vineyards in the village; the fruit was from the backyard; and the horta (a vegetable similar to spinach, but sweeter) was from someone’s garden. My aunt Roula made me a chocolate mousse cake and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” first in Greek, then in English. My cousin Elma then made me a Greek ice coffee called frappe. The combination of the food, atmosphere, and especially the company was the best welcome to Greece I could have imagined.

My favorite memories from this day:

· Much to his children’s amusement, accidentally calling my cousin Nectarios, Nektarini - which is the equivalent of nectarine in Greek.

· My little cousin Giorgos making me memorize the Greek alphabet immediately upon meeting me.

Here is an action shot in which you can see Nectarios showing me a family tree - while my cousins Giorgos and Anna simultaneously quizzed my Greek skills from a recently downloaded ipad app.

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