Fall 2011
Celebrating with the Greeks: A Christening
By Mary Shiraef

A few days after I met my family in Crete, they asked me if I wanted to go to a Vaftisi. I didn’t know what it was, but I of course said, "Yes".

Vaftisi, a child’s baptism, is just as big of a deal for a child in Greece as his or her own wedding. It is typically performed around the child’s second birthday (I think). The godparents chosen for the child (the koumbari) play a crucial role in the religious ritual, as well as in the rest of the child’s life. As I learned in my anthropology class, choosing the koumbari can become a strategic relationship in Greece, as people wish to associate themselves and their children with people of status or politicians.
To picture the spread of little Yiannis’ christening, just imagine an extravagant country club overlooking a sunset over the Mediterranean. Then, picture over 300 people, a live band, a full course meal, red wine and raki (a Cretan liquor), and a firework display. Yeah.
We arrived late (as usual), but just in time to see some of the rituals performed by the koumbari. By the end of the ceremony, what had been an oblivious, blissfully happy, Yiannis, turned into a quite discontent Yiannis, acutely aware of what he wanted – his mom. I mean, I might squirm and cry as well, if someone was cutting off locks of my hair and rubbing olive oil on my hands, feet, ears, and mouth.
The rituals performed all have a significant depth of meaning in the Greek Orthodox tradition, which was explained to me way before I overcame the language barrier (just kidding, it’s definitely still there.)
Thankfully, little Yiannis perked up by the end of the night and thoroughly enjoyed his after party. Actually, he just kept trying to escape, but didn’t usually think to pull his pants up before he ran.
We left the reception around 1:00 A.M., but my cousins told me it was not uncommon for the celebrations to last until past 4:00 A.M! In Greece, whether at a party, tavern, or bar, it is custom to keep the party going until the last guest has stopped eating, drinking, or dancing. Sounds like a Shiraef party to me.
Of course, back in the States, we would be eating Vinny and Joe’s pizza, drinking some of mom’s lemonade, and beating a couple levels of Dance Dance Revolution. Miss you guys!

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