Traditional Culture: Community Events
Life Cycle Events
Life cycle events are observed with elaborate secular and religious ritual. A variety of customs are associated with births. Naming traditions are strong among Greeks, who usually name children after grandparents or other honored relatives—resulting in numerous cousins with the same name. There are also strong regional naming traditions, often associated with local saints. Baptism marks the entry of the child into the church. The child is immersed in a baptismal font and the godparents assist the priest in anointing it with oil. Martyrika, witness pins distributed at baptisms bearing the names of the child and godparents, are a vestige of times when written records were rare and witnesses were necessary for important events.
Weddings are particularly rich in tradition. For instance, the stefana (crowns linked with a ribbon) symbolize the couple’s union and their status as king and queen of a new household. After the wedding, these elaborate creations are displayed in a special case. At the reception, the marriage is celebrated with Greek music and dancing. Boubounieres (small net packets containing sugar-coated almonds) are distributed to the guests. Some believe that the almonds symbolize the sweetness and bitterness of married life. At night, young girls may slip the boubounieres under their pillows in order to dream of their future husbands.
Being a koumbaros or koumbara (sponsor) for a wedding or a nounos (godfather) or nouna (godmother) for a baptism is a position of great honor and life-long commitment. Koumbaroi participate in the wedding by exchanging the crowns over the heads of the couple and providing necessary items. Godparents provide spiritual and sometimes economic support.
Many customs also surround death and mourning. Kolliva is made for funeral or memorial services and symbolizes resurrection. Women assemble kolliva in a mound using boiled wheat, powdered sugar, dark and golden raisins, ground walnuts, slivered almonds, sesame, anise and cinnamon covered with graham cracker or bread crumbs and powdered sugar. They decorate it with almonds and confectioners’ candies, often making a cross and the initials of the deceased. The family presents kolliva to the church,the priest blesses it during the Liturgy, and afterwards it is distributed to the congregation.
The community celebrates many types of festive occasions. Secular celebrations sponsored by fraternal organizations or regional clubs provide opportunities to socialize and share their cultural heritage. A popular local event is Greek Independence Day on March 25, celebrated with a parade and glendi (party) that include dance groups, children in regional costumes, community organizations, church officials, and dignitaries from Greece. American holidays may also include Greek food, music, or dance in addition to American favorites. In recent years, the City of Tarpon Springs has produced Night in the Islands. Based on Greek village panigiria, it is an evening of outdoor Greek music, dancing, and dining on the Sponge Docks.
The primary function of Greek festivals is fundraising, but they offer the public a chance to enjoy Greek popular music, dance and food, or to buy Greek imports. Festivals generally present only a narrow range of culture, but they provide an opportunity for elders to teach young community members. Older women supervise cooking, while men and women teach exhibition dances to children and young adults. The time together allows them to share their vital knowledge about those traditions, as well as other significant cultural information and community history.