As the first Greek immigrants arrived on the shores of Australia, they carried with them more than just a suitcase with some clothes. A collection of regional traditions were brought along and celebrated in their new hometowns.
Years later we still have Greek cultural clubs honouring our regional heritage, but as older members become more frail, it is up to new generations of Greek Australians to them carry on and ensure people in the future can learn about them too. Monash Hellenic Students Society committee member Joanna Angeletos shares her insight on how Greek Australian youth can engage with their family’s regional dances, traditions and events.
Whether it be food, dances, or specific celebrations, all regions of Greece have something unique and special to offer. Now, being second, third and even fourth generation Greek-Australians, we are slowly losing grasp of our unique roots, and our traditions are becoming muted. If this continues, our great grandchildren will think Zorba is the sole Greek dance to encapsulate our culture, when in reality the Greek culture is so much more intricate than that. Fortunately, we have time to make sure that these traditions don’t completely vanish from our Greek heritage here in Australia. There are a variety of things we can all do to uphold these traditions, and ensure they are passed down to future generations.
First, and most obvious, is to get the information from the horse’s mouth. Ask your grandparents, parents, or a relative from your region of Greece to enlighten you on the local traditions and customs. You would be surprised at how random, unique, and unexpected some of the stories will be. So many specific events have occurred in little pockets of Greece throughout history that your ancestors adapted into dances, songs, and celebrations. From the Ouzo Festival of Mytilini, to the traditional song “Ψαροπούλα” (Psaropoula) of Hydra, to the tradition in Naousa during Απόκριες where men dress as brides to scare off evil spirits, Greece has so much to offer and is not limited to the stereotypical traditions we are exposed to.
Growing up with a dad heavily involved in the Lemnian community, I couldn’t recommend enough to join a cultural club of your own region of Greece – and if one doesn’t exist, start one! Without this, I would never have known the Lemnian dance “Κεχαγιάδικος” (Kechagiadikos), as I only ever saw it danced at Lemnian events. These committees are a great way to pass on tradition, but that can’t happen unless our generation also gets involved. We need our Greek youth to continue the legacy, improve and pass on these cultural committees for them to thrive in our changing society. Sadly, one day there won’t be many of the original migrants left, and we will be the ones responsible to educate the νεολαία of the next generations.
Within these youth committees, what better idea than to replicate the festivals held in your χωριό, here in Australia? Reminiscing with your γιαγιά and παππού on memories from their youth is great, but it doesn’t include you in the experience. If you have a committee, then hold your very own cultural festival with the traditional dances, foods, and customs from your specific culture. It’s also a great way to connect with other people your age from your region and make new παρέες.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s to take the bull by the horns and live life to the fullest. Once the lockdowns end and international travel opens, go to Greece yourself, learn about your traditions and culture, and experience it all first-hand. Not only will you feel a sense of fulfilment from within, but you will be doing a greater good by bringing some of that rich heritage back that has faded over the years and has been forgotten. It will be a treasurable experience that you can tell your future kids or relatives one day and can pass on the knowledge you never received.
We are so blessed to have our Greek heritage and to have grown up into this community. Now it is up to us to keep our traditions alive – especially the unique ones.