Name Day

 On my name day, I take the day off work and attend the service dedicated to my patron saint. This is held in the local Greek Orthodox cathedral. I sit or stand, depending on the demands of the moment, listening to a mass chanted in a haunting ancient language that few people understand today.  

I hear people cry “Lord,have mercy!” (Kyrie eleison) as they have for centuries. Saints and angels painted on the domed roof look down on us, offering the promise of tender salvation from above. 

Centuries of toil under the hot Mediterranean sun are sublimated in a shadowed refuge, glittering with gilt and flickering candles. Honest, hard-working people have been coming to sacred places like this for a very long time. They come to affirm their belief that life has purpose, a reason beyond the daily struggle just to survive.     

At home, after mass, I celebrate my name day in a more personal way. I invite friends, family and neighbours over for the evening.  

I mostly cook Greek food when I entertain.

I have Greek friends who demand that I cook only Greek when they visit. I have even cooked them a Christmas dinner, in their own house, with their own ingredients! Once, Dmitri even brought his mother, who was visiting from Thessalonica, over for supper. He gave me strict instructions that the cuisine had to be Hellenic that night.  

Therefore, when I celebrate my name day, it goes without saying that the menu will be Greek, in honour of the Greek bishop who is my patron saint, St Nicholas.  

The party is held on a tree-sheltered terrace. Our perch overlooks a suburb sparkling with lights like scattered gemstones on black velvet.   

I prepare for this special evening as carefully as I know how.  

I carry trestle tables out onto the terrace. Then I lay them with a snowy white table cloth. The cloth is my canvas. On this crisp background, I display various blue objects. Bright overlays, glass bowls and small candle cups, all have their special place.  

In my hemisphere, we are entering summer and there are plenty of grape vines that I can pluck. I twine the soft green vines with their subtly crenulated leaves among the man-made objects, softening the overall effect.  

I have hours of Greek pop music stashed, like treasure in a pirate’s chest, on my hard drive.  

I load my MP3 player up with my precious, exotic music. When I switch on the music, there is a change in the atmosphere. The sweet-smelling night swells with fragile magic.  Tinkling bouzoukis and other stringed instruments fill the air with hard, glittering notes.  

Sometimes the notes don’t sparkle, but yearn with Middle Eastern inspired nostalgia. This strikes me as very apt. The area we now call Turkey used to be Greek heartland centuries ago. There are more Greek ruins in Turkey than in any other country.  Many other Middle Eastern countries also have lost their Hellenic children more  recently.      

The mezedes – appetisers – are served smorgasbord style.  

The freshly baked, plaited loaves of bread spill out of a big woven basket. Dolmades gleam mysteriously in the candlelight from their vine leaf nest. Are these rice parcels bursting with minty lamb? Maybe they are laced with crisply fried pine nuts and juicy raisins? They might even surprise you with thyme and oregano beef.    

How would you know? The only way to find out is to taste what the little gift parcels hide tonight. How can you resist?  

Soft little lamb kebabs, no longer than your finger, cluster around the bowl of tzatziki dip.  

A plate of golden Spanakopita triangles nestles next to a tray of flavoursome meatballs. Little treats, small enough to happily pop into your mouth with only the tiniest twinge of guilt!  

A generous, crunchy, Greek salad happily laughs amongst all the festive calories. The salad is a bit naughty tonight. She is ornamented with costume jewellery of marinated Feta cheese and fresh flower petals. Tonight she throws aside her normal insistence on being a healthy dish. Tonight she is attending a party. She is here to have fun!  

Home-marinated olives jostle each other, as they peer out of their glass bottles. They lie in various nests of herbs and lemon. They don’t taste quite like anything that you can find in a shop. You will meet them, like mysterious strangers, only tonight and then never again.  

The main course is often a grandmotherly Moussaka, fresh from the oven. She is multilayered and wise. She has been comforting hungry stomachs for centuries now. With her come her herby potato grandchildren. The potatoes, like tomatoes, have come from America and they are both welcome. Under her tanned brown exterior, lie toasted eggplant, tangy tomato, tender lamb and an  oriental hint of cinnamon. Don’t think that she is dowdy, though; she is a party girl at heart. The lamb mince is laced with a good measure of warm red wine. Tonight grandma is kicking up her heels!  

On my table, desert is usually something simple, like home-made citrus sorbet in sculpted fruit baskets.  Their jewel colours make a showy contrast with the background of snowy crushed ice on which they are served.  

When I pull out all the stops, dessert is a sticky baklava. The crisp phyllo pastry triangles, rich with honey, nuts, figs and brandy come with Greek yoghurt on the side.  

I have one night of fantasy, dancing and laughter every year to remind me that life is good. One night that reminds me that the point of growning up is that you choose your fantasies and live your dreams. 

w0lf w0lf
46-50, M
2 Responses Jun 7, 2009

I myself am a godless atheist, but I love tradition. <br />
I am convinced that good traditions are vital to our humanity. They mark the passage of years, give us identity and brighten our lives.<br />
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I was once taken to a church where they made a whole carnival out of mocking other churches. One of them was the Greek Orthodox Church. <br />
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That was when it hit me, they were mocking the only comfort and consolation that poor oppressed people had for centuries.<br />
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Here they were sitting in judgment on honest labourers from the comfort of their upper-middle-class pleasure palace.<br />
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Notre Dame in Paris is easily the most beautiful cathedral I have ever visited. Unfortunately it has become a tourist stop. I don't think one can feel that wonderful presence you describe in a place like that.<br />
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I think it is beautiful that you can experience serenity in stillness. It is for people like you that labourers sweated and widows sacrificed their mites. If they had ghosts, I am sure it would please them a great deal that you pay homage to their legacy.

What a wonderful way to spend a day off!!<br />
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Not a regular church going person, but the highlight of my life when going to other countries is to visit the churches and sit alone in a pew in a corner, look around and think of the individuals that created that masterpiece and I do believe I experience the presence of God –<br />
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Best “Toast”