South of Nafplio, the first capital of modern day Greece, is the small village of Kiveri. On the coast in the Peloponnese about two hours west of Athens, Kiveri is the hometown of Panayioti’s (aka “Pan” — the producer of my TV show and who has traveled with me to China, Iceland, and Mexico) mother Sophia and his late grandfather. Pan’s grandfather on his father George’s side, grew up in a tiny rural mountain village southwest of Kiveri.
Pan’s family emigrated to Northern Canada and settled in Regina Saskatchewan. Today Pan lives in Vancouver with his now new bride Brittany, while his mom and dad still live in Regina and Brittany’s parents live in Brandon, Manitoba.
After connecting with Pan, his mother and father and many of my friends from Vancouver, including Jamie who is the audio/sound man on the show, I joined Pan’s family on a long and winding journey up the mountains, through Stolos, his grandfather’s village, to a tiny church on the highest peak in the area. Churches built for Saints, in Greece I’m told, are always built on the highest peak.
The road twists and turns, there are no guardrails, and the precipices on the side of the narrow road are scary in daylight. In the darkness, one hopes nobody is coming the other way. I left Doc in the village and hitched a ride with some of Brittany’s family. Her uncle Tim, at the wheel of a tiny Renault with barely enough power from its tiny power plant, tells us he hasn’t driven a stick in over 30 years. Cursing at every hairpin as he downshifts about the narrow power band of the Renault.
Tomorrow is the wedding. Today is name day (in Greek: ονομαστική εορτή) for Saint Elias. Almost every day is name day in Greece, but today we will celebrate those named after Saint Elias with a ceremony in a church so small, barely 10 people could fit inside. For 100 or so others making the journey up the mountain that is just fine. Some crowded outside tiny windows or the entrance while others connected with old friends in the church’s courtyard.
The priest conducting the ceremony emerges from the church with the icon of St. Elias and recites what I assume are prayers and hymns outside before marching the icon around the church. At the end of the ceremony, sweet bread is offered to all in attendance.
I wish I spoke Greek. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to find someone who speaks English, and with a posse from Canada, I at least have a tad of understanding of this Greek Orthodox tradition. I learn also that orthodox Christians celebrate “name days” throughout Europe. In Greece, most everyone is named after one of their grandparents, who most times is also named after a saint. That’s why there are so many Georges, Panos, Spiros, and so on. If it’s your name day, it’s a party for you—and mostly, name days fall on the same day every year. I guess it’s like having two birthdays!
For those Greeks not named after a Saint, they still get to celebrate on what is “All Saints Day.” At least, this is to my best understanding. If you can shed further light on this, please comment below.
Tonights ‘name day’ celebration includes a feast of roasted pig, souvlaki, cold beer, mountain wine, live music, and plenty of dancing.
Several pigs, roasted earlier in the day, and previously cut into sides, like three-foot planks, with the skin toasted and crispy. Then, a chef wielding a huge cleaver cuts the pig into chunks and serves them to the patiently waiting crowd. Tender, delicate and juicy, the pork is served with salad and bread.
Offered in 500ml batches, the mountain wine came in what looked like water bottles. Slightly pink and rose-colored, I was skeptical, if not worried that the juice would be too sweet, cloying and barely drinkable. Yet, as I am fond of saying, you always have to try something at least once. As for this mountain wine, I was wrong. it was dry with only a hint of sweetness—very drinkable. And with this roasted pork, I enjoyed it more than the beer.
After a painfully loud and long sound check, the band played a set of traditional Greek instrumentals and then a woman joined and sang more Greek songs. The crowd was reserved at first, so Sophia took to the dance floor and inspired many, including yours truly, until some 20 people were all joined together by hands and we danced and circled, counterclockwise, for many songs.
This cultural fiesta is a perfect indoctrination into traditional Greek culture. Tomorrow, it’s the wedding day. I’m looking forward to celebrating Pan and Brittany once more here in Greece.