Elias looked at me today, as he stood on the steps leading away from the upper village church and we were headed to our cousin’s house for coffee, and he said, “I know we are going to miss things back at home, but this is going to be a fun year!” He was smiling and genuinely happy. It was one of those moments as a parent, where you try to lock that exact moment in time into your mind so that you will always have it as a memory to recall. I smiled back at him and said, “Yes, Elias, it is going to be a good year, and no matter how much you miss the things back at home, they will all be there when we return.” He turned around and headed up the hill with his sister and brother, and 4 of his “newly found” cousins, as he calls them.
Avgi and Lemonia’s mother, Marina, invited us to their house for coffee today, and of course we accepted. Avgi and Lemonia are the twins I wrote about in the post An Amazing Morning–the ones we met after we spent the morning in the pevka picking basil with Roula. They turned 9 this week, and a few days ago they invited us to their birthday party. Of course we were thrilled to be invited and excited to compare how a birthday party in Greece compares to a birthday party in America. We found out that it’s similar in many ways. The kids run around and make a lot of noise, all competing with each other for center stage. Party food is served and at least half of it ends up crushed on the floor, sticky with spilled drinks. There’s birthday cake and candles and songs to honor the birthday girl(s), including the American “Happy Birthday to You,” minus the “cha cha cha’s and you look like a monkey” add-ons.
The adults sit and talk while the chaos surrounds them, and eventually one child ends up in tears. And, of course, there is music, and dancing.
Just like in America, the dancing at parties tends to be impromptu. But the difference is that the dancing here is traditional Greek dancing. No Usher, Bruno Mars, Pink, or Tao Cruz. Just bouzouki, violin and guitar. I was sitting outside on the patio with the adults when the Greek music started to flow out of the windows. I didn’t think too much of it, as that’s truly the only type of music that we ever hear (even on the radio), until a few minutes later when someone said, “I think the kids are dancing in there.” I jumped up, grabbed my camera, and told them I’d be right back. I went inside to find a dozen or so kids inside dancing the zeibekiko, a one person dance that is fairly free of choreography. It’s a dance I’ve tried to do for years but don’t have either the rhythm or self-confidence to do it well! The rest of the kids, mine included, were sitting on the couch, watching and cheering them on (I guess that is fairly similar to what you’d see at an American party as well!). I was amazed and in awe that the children were dancing this traditional dance, just as American kids would get up and dance to a Michael Jackson song. Shortly thereafter an Ikarian song came on, and just as they did at the panagiri, all of the kids shrieked with joy and jumped up to form a line–my kids included. As I unsuccessfully tried to video tape (because the lights had been turned down too low), the dance line formed a circle in the living room and around and around the kids went. Soon they ran out of room, and they danced right out of the living room, onto the patio, where the adults clapped to the beat and some even joined in.
I was intrigued by this site. Young kids, dancing a traditional dance at a birthday party, with as much enthusiasm as pop music in America generates in kids. I wondered if these kids would be comfortable dancing to pop music if it was to played, or if it would seem just as foreign to them as dancing to traditional music is to us. I recently read that Greece is one of the few countries left that traditional dance is an everyday occurence–and is just as prevalent as it was in ancient times. Not only did I see the young adults at the panagiri dance all night and sing along with band, I have also seen them break out in dance in the platia at night. There have been evenings when three or four men would sit and play Greek songs and crowds would gather at that taverna to enjoy the music. Every time there would be three or four who would get up and begin to dance along side the tables. It was a scene that you would think you might see created for a movie that is set in Greece–people sitting at tables, drinking their ouzo, smoking their cigarettes, Greek music in the background, and a few people dancing, all in the background as the actors take center stage. But what we are experiencing isn’t a movie. It’s real life here. Dancing is as important to everyday life as taking afternoon naps and spending time with family. Even though I grew up Greek dancing at festivals and conventions and was even part of a Greek dance group that traveled and did shows, I never knew how much a part of their daily life it truly is.
As a side note, one other difference is that the party for the 9 year old girls started at 8 pm. There was no pick end time on the invitation. We left around midnight and many of the children were still there playing a game that looked similar to Outburst. Today, as we sat outside at the table and remnants of the party were still evident on the patio, I asked Marina what time all of the children eventually left. She sighed and told me that the last few were picked up at 2am. Have I mentioned that there is no such thing as time in Ikaria?