Thursday 26 April 2012

A Big Fat Greek Baptism

Reader, have you ever been to a Greek baptism?  If not, I will do my best to describe it for you.  Imagine a wedding: special outfits, everybody dressed up in their best clothes, a solemn church service, reception and dancing afterwards, gifts.  Now imagine that the bride can't talk (or walk); that the bride is, in fact, nine months old and male; that there's no groom but there is full body immersion and you might start to get an idea of what my nephew Alex's baptism was like.

It was a beautiful spring day and we all gathered outside the small church.

 The to-be-baptised-one held court outside with his mama;

I took photos of icons inside.  (My little sister and I mused about why Saint Helen appears in all Greek icons with pink hair.  Can anyone enlighten us?)

The priest took up his position at the church door at noon precisely.  Alex's lovely nonna (that's godmother to you and me, but in Greece the godparents have an especially important place in the family) took him, affirmed her faith, rejected Satan and held Alex firmly as he was exorcised.  (Yes, that's right.)

The priest asked Nonna Nikki what the baby's name was and she told him ... at which point the baby's father threw money for the kids outside.  Apparently this tradition stems from the time when nobody knew the name until the christening so the father would pay local kids to go and find out at the baptism while he warmed a seat at the taverna.

Then we all went inside and Baby Alex had his clothes taken off him (he held up manfully and played with the smart white leather case containing his trousseau.)

The priest said many prayers and filled the baptismal font with water.

Then Baby Alex was stripped of his nappy and dunked ... at which point, I'm sad to say, he lost his sense of humour and yelled 'I hate you all' - at least that's how I interpreted the wailing.  Before and after the immersion, Alex was anointed in holy oil - Greek baptisms are a three-for-one deal: baptism, communion and confirmation all in one.  Efficient, those Greeks.

(The Adorable Nephew - Original Version - likes a good 'bloom', as he's taken to calling baptisms.)

After the oil, Nonna took Alex and with help from his mama, put him in the special underclothes and cap for soaking up the oil.  Then Alex was dressed in a very fine suit of clothes: the tradition is that these all have to be new, to celebrate the baby's newly cleansed status; further tradition is that the outfit should be lavish - I guess to symbolise the hope that the baby's future life will be full of good things.

After the redressing (and, I'm afraid, more wailing - Alex isn't keen on being dressed at the best of times) there were more prayers.  The mama kissed an icon and the nonna's hand and was then given her baby back.

Exhausted by all of this, Alex fell asleep in his pram afterwards ... but the party was just getting started.  The reception was held in a local winery and aside from excellent wine we had delicious salads and twelve or so kinds of meat.  Soutzoukakia!  Souvlakia!  Gyros!  (What is a party without gyros?)  There was ouzo, of course, for those that wanted it (not me, not a fan) and the baby was passed around to be cooed over.

One of the things I like most about Greek baptisms is the traditional wish that people make for the family: na sas zizei  - may he live for you.  That's not live in the literal sense but more in the sense of, I suppose, to be a credit to you, to lighten your lives.

So there you are: if ever you're invited to a Greek baptism, you'll know what to expect.  Na sas zizei.


  1. Oh he looks so sad in the picture with his strangely Virgin Mary-esque white veil