Monday, September 07, 2009

A christening in Athens

Last week I attended the christening of my friends Peter and Eleni's youngest son, Philip George. Christenings are important occasions in Greece, often attended by up to 100 family and friends.

The honoured guest of the day is the baby's godparent, who takes centre stage during the service. It is considered a great honour to be asked to be a godfather or godmother, as the godparent has a special role in the child's life.

In Greek Orthodox tradition, babies are covered in oil (yes, I am serious) by the godparent and then immersed in water by the priest conducting the service. As a result, baptisms tend to be noisy affairs and the godparent needs nerves of steel.

Little Philip's godmother was super calm throughout the service, even when the baby attempted to scream the place down. He was happy to be covered with oil, but didn't much like the dunking!

The godparent provides a full outfit to be worn after the service, including underwear and shoes. He or she also brings a gold cross and chain for the baby, and mini-broches for the guests to wear to signify that they have witnessed the baptism.

After the service, the parents offer favours and cakes to the guests. Eleni and Peter offered ice-cream in three flavours (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) and cute little vases of vanilla paste, which came with their own mini spoons.

The favours were little bracelets with a frog motif.

It was really hot that day, 39°C in the sunshine (102°F), so those who stayed around after the service sought the shade of the trees. Ice-cream proved a popular choice.

Young Philip took a little nap after the dunking ordeal, but he woke up in time for the post-service pictures and was soon running around with his elder brother and friends.


Puss-in-Boots said...

The Christening was similar to one I went to a few years ago. A friend of mine had her daughter to be christened and I was very honoured to be asked to give one of the readings. She, also, had to outfit the baby in different clothes complete with cross and chain.

I find it very interesting to read the different customs in other countries and that looked a lovely day for everyone...even if the baby wasn't very impressed with the whole!

Karen said...

Beautifully captured, Tinsie! I love the church, it is so gorgeous and so different from anything I've seen.

Can I please have a little more info on the following:

1. Significance of oiling the baby.
2. Role of godparent
3. Vanilla paste

I think if I were you, I would head back to Greece and stay there forever. :-)

Fifi Flowers said...

LOVELY event! Amazing... my boys only got oil dripped on their heads!

Unseen Rajasthan said...

Fantastic shots !! Thanks for sharing this with us..Unseen Rajasthan

lemon said...

Where is this nice and eccentric church?

Tinsie said...

@ Puss-in-Boots: The baby was indeed unimpressed, but as he won't have any recollection of the day, no harm was done ;-)

@ Karen: I think oil signifies the healing from sin, because oil was believed to have medicinal powers in ancient times (which is when a lot of these customs originated).

The godparent is the spiritual parent, responsible at least in part for the child's character development. Also in older times the godparent was seen as a provider of financial aid, i.e. clothes at Christmas, shoes at Easter etc, and would take over the child's education and financial support in case something happened to the parents.

It's called mastiha and is mastic-flavoured sugar paste but it looks and tastes a lot like vanilla. It's usually served in a spoon dipped in a glass of cold water - you lick the paste off the spoon until it's all gone. This is called a submarine. You can also have it neat, but it's better in a glass of water.

@ Fifi Flowers: All-over oiling is so much more fun ;-)

@ Unseen Rajasthan: Glad you liked them!

@ Lemon: It's Agia Triada in Thrakomakedones.

Per Stromsjo said...

Wow, thanks for sharing. I can almost hear this young man with a firm opinion on Things and Matters.

Karen said...

Thank you!

Do you drink the submarine water?

Gattina said...

Poor baby, lol ! what a torture to become a christian ! At least the catholic church only throws water over the head, which is already a drama sometimes, but usually the babies are only a few weeks old. We waited with the christening until May so our son was already 9 months old he grapped the candle the priest had in his hand and slapped him on the head ! Of course everybody had to laugh.

ShadowFalcon said...

I've been to Christening for my husbands family but it not quite so much of an affair. I love the frog braclets and ice-cream!

Tinsie said...

@ Per Stromsjo: Well, mainly he called out "mummy, mummy" but when that lead to nothing, he tried "daddyyyyyy".

But yes, if he had more words, I'm sure he'd have given us a piece of his mind hehe.

@ Karen: Only if you're very thirsty!

@ Gattina: Yes, but the Catholic Church expects you to go back to be confirmed, whereas the Orthodox Church only expects you to attend the one time ;-)

Did the priest see the funny side?

@ ShadowFalcon: Is your husband CoE? We went to a CoE christening recently and it definitely doesn't compare! The ice-cream tasted delicious, even the strawberry flavour, which isn't one of my faves.

exposemaximum said...

thank you very much for sharing these beautiful images. almost like a story

Shionge said...

This is beautiful and interesting for me :D

Tinsie said...

@ Exposemaximum: I tried to arrange the photos so they told a story, glad you can see it :-)

@ Shionge: Thank you!

palmtreefanatic said...

oh wow! thanks for sharing!

Eirene H said...

wow it brings back so many memories... My wedding... Alexandros' christening... Other weddings and christening, Easter and even Sunday mass!!!! Cannot miss The priest papa Lambros either! Seemed like a lovely day congratulations to the happy parents!