Sunday family lunches…The one Greek tradition migrants kept alive here in xenitia

If there is one tradition all Greek migrants respected and kept alive since arriving in Australia and throughout their migration history, it would certainly be the traditional Sunday lunches during which members of the entire family would gather around the table so that they could enjoy a Greek traditional feast prepared by the matriarch of the family.

Although the Sunday lunch tradition commands respect, actually going through the motions of making it happen is another story, therefore it appears as if the popularity of the Sunday feast within the community is starting to diminish.

Back in the day, the ritual started first thing in the morning with the mother or grandmother organising the extensive menu for the big day, before leaving for church to attend Sunday service.

“For us housewives of that era, cooking and preparing good wholesome food for the whole family and then inviting everyone to gather around the table, was without a doubt the highlight of the week,” says 75-year-old Angeliki, mother of three and now grandmother of four, who migrated to Australia in 1950.

A crispy clean tablecloth, usually a precious dowry item, the good “servitsio” (plates and cutlery) which made a special appearance on Sundays, the Greek music playing in the background, mouth-watering traditional dishes and drinks like ouzo and tsipouro, all contributed to a relaxed and cosy atmosphere.

“Although the housewives of my generation still wanted everything to be perfect and made a real effort to impress their loved ones, we did not let ourselves get carried away with all the setting which would then mean overlooking the importance of creating the right menu. After all, the calibre of our lunch was mostly dependent on how enjoyable the meal was for all our special family members,” says Angeliki who left her village in Korinthia seeking a better future in Australia.    

Sunday really was a festive day.

The patriarch of the family, whether afather, grandfather or great grandfather, was usually the one to ‘officiate’ the lunch with the Sunday prayer.

All members of the family, grandparents, parents, uncles and aunties, cousins and young children gathered around wearing their ‘Sunday best” clothes, ready to take part and enjoy the feast that would last for hours.

During this gastronomic ritual, the atmosphere was happy and light, whilst no one appeared to be in a hurry.

Regardless of the family’s financial status and main income occupation, most families enjoyed lengthy conversations, engaged in political debates, spoke openly about their dreams, their fears and aspirations, whilst every so often the conversation would relate to Greece, sharing old memories and reminiscing the old life back home.

“I grew up in a close knit family and for us Sunday lunch at yiayia’s house was a delightful and enriching experience and something that I still look forward to,” says 27-year-old Panagiotis who during the week is employed in a government agency in Melbourne but flies back to Adelaide on the weekend just to spend time with his family.

“For me, having everyone gather around the table, sharing food, exchanging thoughts, laughter and love towards each other, is life’s greatest gift and something I will cherish forever.

“The whole ritual from helping yiayia cook to setting the table for her and then chatting away with the twenty plus member of our family, enjoying the meal and a Greek coffee at the end, helps put things into perspective as we all find comfort and manage to escape from the stress and anxiety of every-day life. It’s like therapy,” says Panagiotis.

“For the hostess, mother or grandmother, Sunday family lunch is all about the guests not wanting to leave the table until the stomach is filled with food and the heart is filled with love,” says yiayia Angeliki, who spent years working in restaurants around Adelaide.

“The Sunday lunch custom is a tradition that we should all try and keep alive, because through sharing food, we actually maintain all those Greek values and principals of Greek hospitality, family togetherness and filotimo. In the same breath, the food is always there to remind us of our ancestors and the importance of eating well and keeping healthy,” says yiayia Angeliki who doesn’t believe there are any secret recipes when cooking Greek traditional food.

“I don’t think our grandmothers have any secret recipes that make their food so delicious, but they do have one secret ingredient whilst cooking and that’s certainly the love they have for their family,” concludes Panagiotis.