A few weeks ago the second most important Big Fat Greek family event of my life occurred: my son’s christening.
The first of course was my wedding.
Which now pales in comparison to the christening.
Despite putting my foot down and insisting that we do not invite the whole of Greece and Cyprus, naturally everyone turned up.
Planning for the christening had begun the day after Pip (Andreas – known on the blog as Pip!) was born back in April. Arguments about the christening outfit, the bombonieres, the godparents, the venue, the food and the cake went on for months and I kick myself now for not getting in touch with Channel 4 and asking them if they would like to film a documentary about it.
Sourcing all the random bits and pieces for the christening proved to be a challenge. But through my networking website The Greek Wives Club, I have been lucky enough to find many boutique shops and online stores that specialise in Greek traditions. It was particularly important to me to find unique bombonieres (favours) that guests could take home and actually use. Bombonieres usually take the form of a keyring or picture of the child which, while pretty, are not of any real use.
In the end I went onto the Etsy store and found a Greek shop called Favors and More by Fiona Varis who also has a website at www.fionascreations.com. Fiona’s handmade wedding and christening favours are quite frankly the bees knees and her blue and white beautiful bomboniere soaps in the shape of an evil eye, caught my own eye. The bomboniere was presented along with five sugared almonds/koufeta which represent Health, Wealth, Happiness, Prosperity and Long Life.
I also bought my witness pins/martirika online after coming across Anna’s Christening Centre, a shop in North London. From socks and shoes, to bibs and towels, to hats and cardigans, the shop has everything you need but I just bought the pins after succumbing to peer pressure (or rather ‘Greek relative pressure’) and agreeing to look for the outfit et al in Cyprus.
The quest for the perfect christening outfit proved to be a hellish one. Greek customer service is pretty much non-existent and a few of the christening shops we visited just wanted to push their own ideas on us.
As it happened (and as it so often does happen when you are looking for something), we managed to find EVERYTHING that we needed only a few days before we were due to leave. Upon entering Larnaca-based family-run store Kkoukla by Val, I just knew that I was in the right place. The family were friendly and welcoming and I got more than a little bit excited by all the cute outfits, pretty candles and other christening paraphernalia.
We ended up buying everything we could possibly need (and more) all from the store and only went elsewhere (mainly Jumbo) for the odd blue serviette and other reception decorations.
And so, armed with all the christening necessities we flew back to England and started preparations.
Rather than organising the reception at a hotel or in the church hall, we decided to hold the after-party in our family restaurant, which meant that the entire family clubbed together to cook up a variety of delicious Greek cuisine including cakes galore, dolmades, spanakopita, pastitsio and of course SOUVLA (as modelled below on the day of the christening by my father-in-law and uncle. Yes that is a hairdryer…)
The christening cake itself was lovingly made and decorated by my mum Suzi B. She opted for a three-tiered fruit cake layered with icing and some rather spectacular blue buttons topped off with Pip’s name and an iced baby on top of a cross…(as you do). Due to the amount of people we were expecting my brother-in-law decided that it might be a good idea to have a back up cake in case we were swamped by the masses, so he bought a simple vanilla sponge…(the size of a house).
Finally the day of the christening arrived and I was more nervous than my wedding day. Would Pip be alright? Would he cry? Would he poop?
The service itself was held at St George’s Greek Orthodox Church in Kingston. In the Greek Orthodox faith, christenings follow a strict format. Firstly the priest does a lot of talking and asks the godparents if they renounce the devil etc. Despite initially being quite intrigued by what was going on, Pip burst into tears after the priest yelled his name out to the congregation. After that there was no comforting him.
After being presented to the church, the child is smothered in oil (preferably a high quality one!) and then immersed in the baptismal font three times, symbolising the three days Christ spent in the tomb. This event is a reenactment of Christ’s baptism, death and Resurrection.
After immersion, the priest places the child in the open arms of the godparent, who holds a new white sheet as a symbol of the soul’s purity. The priest then administers a second sacrament: Chrismation, where the child receives the gift of the Holy Spirit with miron, a special oil blessed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. Three locks are cut from the child’s hair in the form of a cross.
The child is then changed into his/her christening outfit and the baptismal candles are lit. The godparents carry the child around the baptismal font three times, before the priest administers communion to the child.
When all that is done the baby is finally considered a fully fledged member of the Greek Orthodox faith. Opa!
I should note that during the service itself, the mother is not meant to go anywhere near the child. I don’t like this archaic ‘rule’ at all and I found it distressing not being able to comfort my child. In a further draconian twist, no-one, not even the mother is supposedly allowed to kiss the baby for the duration of the day. Well I kissed Pip as much as I liked. I’m sorry but who made up these so called ‘religious laws’?? Like women aren’t meant to go to church during their menstrual cycle because they are considered ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean’. If a murderer is allowed to claim sanctuary and ask for forgiveness in a church why can’t a woman who is on her PERIOD?!
Anyway back to the lovely christening.
For the three days following the baptism the baby should not be bathed and the water from the first bath after the Baptismal Ceremony should be used to water flowers. (We tipped it over the olive tree on the balcony – it looked a little worse for wear the next day).
For the three Sundays following the Baptism the baby is supposed to receive communion dressed in his/her baptismal outfit but the following Sunday we actually ended up attending another christening and Pip was dressed like this:
I very much doubt he will be wearing his christening outfit again until he has grown into it. When he’s about five.
So anyway back to the day itself. After the drama of the service it was time to party! AND EAT!
I set up a sweet stand overflowing with sweets and cupcakes which proved to be the highlight of the night. The first set of cupcakes was made by lovely fellow mummy Emma Counsell. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for enquiries.
The cupcakes on the top of the stand and the sweet trees were made by my cousin Maria from Maria’s Cake Shop.
I also bought some fancy sweet bags from Paperchase and hole-punched them all before tying them to the stand with a piece of string.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to take many pictures myself on the day (far too busy!) so can’t show off any particularly artistic collages of the delicious goodies that were on offer but I can tell you there was plenty!
Here are a few more shots of the service and after party:
I used a hair donut (or doughnut) for a slightly larger than normal ballet bun and created my shimmery eye look with a mixture of mauve and brown eyeshadow (from several different palettes!) and a touch of brown eyeliner. And despite the lipcolour looking quite red in the photos it was actually Avon’s Anew Beauty Tinted Lip Plumping Conditioner in Rose Tint. My small drop earrings were from Cyprus and the diamante bracelet was from Elys in Wimbledon. Husband was bought from Cyprus (non-returnable).
All in all it was a very exhausting but enjoyable day and Pip slept right through the night from about 10pm to 7:30am which was brilliant! Sadly he has since gone backwards but hey ho.
If you would like any more information about Greek christenings and where to shop from why not check out the stores listed on The Greek Wives Club Greek Traditions section.
For now I will leave you with this little highlights video created specially for this blog post by my friend Salem Hanna, Founder and Director of Philistine Pictures.
How did you go about organising your little one’s christening? Do you stand by all the christening customs and traditions?