Easter and ethnicity.


March 30, 2014 by Dadinator

A car speeds past us, bass blaring. It appears to be driven by men of “Mediterranean extraction”
Me: God that’s a fully sick wog mobile.
Mamanator: Shhhh
Me: What I’m 1/2 Greekish, I can say that.
Mamanator: Yes I know, but what about The Lad?
Me: What about him? He’s 1/4 Greekish himself.
Mamanator: Yes, but look at him!
Red hair, blue eyes. Fair skin. Not Greek looking

Red hair, blue eyes. Fair skin. Not Greek looking

Does he look greek AT ALL?
Me: Fair point….

Easter comes around once a year. Well it does every 4 years or so. Otherwise it comes around twice a year.

Hang on, let me explain. You might have got an inkling that I have Irish heritage in there. Seamus and Magee are giveaways. My middle names Patrick, so I think I may as well be a walking shamrock some days. My father was a proud Irishman, and his family are Irish for as long as anyone can remember. He came out to Australia in the 60s, wandered around the country for a while and eventually settled in Melbourne.

But that’s only 1/2 the story. In the strong tradition of melting-pots, mum was also a migrant, but she came from Cyprus, arriving in 1956. She and her family spoke greek, ate Keftedes, Mousaka and Baklava at home, and brought strange and exotic food to school like “Salami” and “Olives”. Strange and exotic foods from far away lands that lead to her being called names in the playground.

So sometimes I wear this:

Is it Greek? Is it Irish? WHO CAN TELL????

Is it Greek? Is it Irish? WHO CAN TELL????

I found this in Athens when I was on a study tour there learning Greek and eating Greek food. I saw it and thought it was an essential purchase because it looked so Irish, but is in fact the jersey for the Greek soccer team “Panathanaikos”. The symbol is even a shamrock. I mean seriously, did St Patrick come to Greece and found a soccer team which took on his symbol?

I tend to break it out on St Patricks day for the cultural irony. One night in my youth it nearly acted as an instant pick up line for two Irish backpackers who were attending the same venue as me that night. When I responded to their greeting with an Aussie twang, however, they got suspicious, noticed the writing on the shirt was Greek and moved on quickly. I was never a hit with the ladies.

But back to Easter. The Greek Orthodox Church, among its many disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church, calculates the date of Easter differently. I don’t know why and I don’t know how it’s worked out, but it is usually a week after the public holiday Easter (the official Easter, but I am loathe to call it that). Some years it’s 2 weeks later and some years it’s on the same day.

It’s the Greekest thing my family does is “Greekster” (Greek Easter). But it has fallen away in the last 5 years or so, people moving away, kids, general busy-ness have taken their toll.  Greekster was about talking loudly, eating food and smashing dyed boiled eggs. Oh and Tsoureki, a sweet bread that is traditional easter fare for people of Greek Heritage. I wonder if my little boy will get to experience it.

Of course on the Mamanator’s side there are a host of traditions too. My Grandfather-in-law (that’s a thing, right?) is Lithuanian. He fled Europe after World War 2 and got to Australian with his sisters. Every year we gather with that side of the family for Christmas Eve, enjoy a meal of 13 dishes, all cold and meat free, and exchange gifts. They also have their easter traditions, which also involve smashing dyed eggs. I wonder what other peoples out there engage in the smashing of boiled eggs? I’m sure there’s an anthropology thesis in it.

Dwelling on all this begs the question: What will my children’s traditions be? What am I creating for them? It is all well and good to blather on about pithy things like “togetherness” or “family” or “love” , but what will they remember? Will they remember the Greek new years cake that is mostly walnuts with a coin hidden in it? Will they remember Soda Bread? Will they remember the distinctly Cypriot easter bread Flaounes? Will they ever get to taste my grandmother’s Rizogalo (rice pudding)?

My son turns 3 this year, he’s entering the time in his life where he will remember things, so these are suddenly pertinent question for me. I find myself on the other side, a custodian of culture and propagator of traditions. I am a spectator no more.

As a 21st century Gen Y Australian I sometimes feel rootless. I know I’m not the only one. I have experienced a blend of traditions, inherited form generations before me. Traditions of far off places, borne across mighty oceans by intense nostalgia and a sense of duty that came with the families seeking a fresh start here in this land. A fresh start, but not a blank slate. Did they have some kind of strange existentialist crisis over Christmas and Easter when I was little? Or even over cricket matches (to refer back to another post of mine)? I doubt they did.

Will my boy understand what it means to be partially Greek, partially Lithuanian, partially Turkish (don’t tell my Yiayia I said that….), partially Irish, partially who knows? Will The Mamanator and I be able to teach him what any of that means when we don’t really know ourselves? Does any of this actually mean anything to anyone anyway? Does it even matter? It might matter. Might not though, a notion both chilling and depressing at the same time.

The hard thing is how do you pass a bunch of different traditions on to a child, some of which you don’t even know yourself. I speak a bit of Greek. I use some when talking to The Lad and Lass. I speak zero Irish-Gaelic (my grandmother was fluent). The Mamanator knows more French than she does Lithuanian. Maybe that makes us lazy, shallow people. Maybe it leaves us adrift in the ocean of humanity without a secure anchor in our own history and identity. Of course, maybe it liberate us, allowing us to see more and experience more. The luxury of the melting pot is that we can pick and choose the best of the traditions that surround us and engage with them as we see fit. Shoppers in the global marketplace of culture, tradition and ethnicity.

Maybe every generation goes through this in some way, and it’s just our turn. So maybe we should suck it up and take up arms against a sea of troubles. Either way parenthood has taught me that culture is not an inheritance or a right. It is a responsibility, it is something created and recreated consciously and subconsciously all the time. And the creators often don’t have the foggiest idea what they’re doing.

This post is confusing, sorry about that, it confuses me too. If I work out any answers I’ll let you know. If I work out more questions, well I’m sure you have enough to go on with here….

So, what are your traditions? How did they come about? Will you carry them on with your progeny (should you have any?) Or will you conveniently re-invent them when the time comes?

Digital Parents Blog Carnival

11 thoughts on “Easter and ethnicity.

  1. Very thought provoking! Love hearing your family history though!

  2. NotTheBoss says:

    I tried to reply on my phone but between Disqus and WordPress’s mobile layout it all went horribly wrong… 😛

    Anyways, the point: On both sides of my family we are pretty much born on our sunburnt continent back at least a century, which you might think would lead to a strong sense of place perhaps, but without the inspiration and impetus of a diasporic memory we have no traditions to speak of, apart from the cultural pressure to at least show up in the presence of family at Xmas, with gifts, and that Easter is an excellent time and excuse to eat chocolate and hot cross buns (not to bag out either of those things). It can lead to a sense of rootlessness, maybe comparable having a large and rich mixed bag of traditions. There are pros to the situation – I don’t generally have to deal with displaced cultural mores, which can be a problem for some second or third generation folks (by no means for all).

    In the end I suppose I end up deciding to make up my own traditions, which feels a bit flimsy sometimes but is also quite fun. I doubt that any kidlets we have will cling romantically to their 1/16 Lebanese heritage via Michael 🙂

    • Seamus Curtain-Magee says:

      Meltingpotsonia a land of pros and cons. Mostly pros, it must be said.

      I can see myself some day googling recipes my Yia Yia used to make in an effort to imitate the traditions. Or maybe reimagine them/reinvent them. Or whatever. I’m not sure how I feel about that little vignette.

  3. Alex says:

    fantastic post as always man, I know that feeling of being rootless even though I can trace my heritage really far back. Being an Englishman, there is little these days that we can feel a sense of pride about, I have Irish, Scottish and Welsh friends who display intense patriotism and pride but if I do the same I get labelled a football hooligan!

    My full name has a great mix of English, Egyptian and Scottish. My ancestry goes back to the middle east a few generations back with a guy called John Bedair who converted to Christianity to marry a woman who would ultimately be my great great great grandmother. It was quite the scandal apparently!

    • Seamus Curtain-Magee says:

      We actually have a scandal like that on my mums side, Turkish and Greek stuff in Cyprus…. My great grandfather changed his name and converted. The skeletons in the cupboards ey?

  4. Rory Mouttet says:

    Hey Seamus I’m born in Trinidad and my wife comes from a strong Arab background.

    I think these things are extremely important. I do tend to feel like sometimes the tradition is lost on the Trinidadian side because we most of the family is back there. But the Arab side is hugely cultural and I love it. We have falafel day coming up which is one of my favorite customs (done on Good Friday.) I went to a wedding Saturday night and the family were Italian. The dances and songs were magnificent. I’m sure it’s hugely confusing being a bitsa but I think if you always make room for culture it will find it’s way to your children, that’s what kids most hold on to when they get older (speaking from my experience only 🙂

    • Seamus Curtain-Magee says:

      Thanks Rory, here’s hoping I can keep it going with my own kids. I worry because a generation in our families is going to pass in the foreseeable future. I guess we all do our best and hope it is enough.

  5. Lisa says:

    Very interesting,reading all your heritage. Maybe you and your partner should sit down and work out what traditions you will celebrate for your kids. Maybe the kids could make soda bread, dye the eggs then smash them up? I am a third generation Australian. All my family originated from England on one side of the family and Scotland on the other side.But I have been mistaken many a time for being Irish, apparently I have an accent?!?

  6. Caroline Raj says:

    My daugher will be part Burmese, English, Scottish, Indian – I reckon go for the reinvention, too hard to stick to one when you can pick the best from all of the wonderful heritages 🙂

  7. We have Hungarian, English, Welsh, Danish and German on my side and Polish, English and Irish on my wife’s side, but we don’t follow any traditions other than buy some eggs, hid them, have the kids find them, and then eat them.

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