Growing Up Greek-American: 15 Things We All Experienced in Childhood

Growing Up Greek-American
Young Greek-Americans parade in Chicago in 2016. Credit: Facebook/Yiolanda Giannikoulis

Growing up Greek-American you are privy to a unique childhood, filled with some pretty strange customs (strange to those who are not Greek, anyway).

Once you reach adulthood, you have a good idea of how different your upbringing was from that of your non-Greek friends.

And the odds are that you have continued to pass along the traditions and experiences to your own children, like it or not! Let’s take a look at what sets a Greek-American childhood apart from the rest (and, let’s face it — makes it better than the rest!).

Growing Up Greek-American

1. Independence Day is, and always will be, March 25th

Sure, the 4th of July was big in your family, but just not as big or important as the “real” Independence Day, March 25th. You dressed in your Sunday best and headed out to the parade, which you dreamed of being in one day (and probably were).

2. Your birthday played second fiddle to your name day

Birthdays are fun and you get some presents… but they’re nothing compared to how you made off like a bandit on your name day!

Let’s face it, celebrating your name and the saint who you are named after is more profitable and, in any Greek family, much more important than a birthday party.

3. An old lady in your family dresses all in black, from head to toe

Growing Up Greek-American
Traditional Greek women. (File Photo)

Whether it was your yiayia or a great-aunt, the odds are that you had a relative who was constantly dressed in mourning clothes. It might have scared the neighbors, and possibly your friends.

But to you, it was perfectly normal to have an old relative who dressed in black from head to toe!

4. Greek School was more important than regular school

For so many reasons, Greek School was more important to you than regular school. Perhaps mostly because your parents and grandparents told you it was the most important education you would get.

5. First day of school = trauma. The teacher never got your name, first or last, right

Every Greek-American child fears the first day of school. A new teacher could only mean one thing — the butchering of your names — both first and last!

6. Your friends thought it was weird that you ate goat, lamb and sometimes an entire pig

You were definitely not afraid to eat as a child, but whenever your friends came over for dinner, they were… well, afraid to eat. At least you didn’t have to fight them for the pig tail.

7. You were sent to school with a Tupperware container filled with pastitsio

Growing Up Greek-American
Pastitsio. Wikimedia Commons. Attribution: Katrin Morenz

Mom made you lunch — the Greek way. You were sent to school with Tupperware full of pastitsio, Greek salad and the whole kitchen sink, while your friends ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (and no one ever wanted to trade with you!).

8. Winning the coin in the vasilopita on New Year’s Day was a life-changing event!

Growing Up Greek-American
Vasilopita, file photo

You remember the first time you won the coin in your slice of vasilopita because it was like winning the lottery.

9. You learned from a young age each and every celebrity who is Greek — or half-Greek, or even one-third-Greek

Did you know that Betty White is part Greek? Ahh, yes! Of course you did! If you are Greek-American, as a child you family made a point to mention every single Greek celebrity in the known world.

After all, being Greek is like belonging to one big extended Greek family, kind of like “Full House”. Yes, we’re referencing John Stamos here!

And, when “Friends” came on, forget it! The whole family gathered around to watch Jennifer Aniston.

10. Your get-rich-quick scheme involved selling baklava at your church’s Greek Festival

Lemonade stands never really appealed to you because you had your eyes set on bigger sights: a booth at your church’s Greek Fest, selling baklava you made with yiayia. Much higher profit margin on baklava.

11. On your first day of school, your grandparents came by to spit on you

Greeks believe that by spitting on someone (“Ftou, ftou, ftou”) you ward away evil spirits and bad energy (including the evil eye). As you left the house for your first day of school or any big event in your childhood, yiayia and papou would come by to spit on you.

12. You had a gathering of your entire family every Sunday after church

You remember your backyard filling up with your entire extended family who came over to roast a lamb on Sunday afternoon after church.

13. You spent your summers in Greece, of course!

Your friends went to camp while you went to Greece each summer. You visited your family’s homeland and saw a million relatives you aren’t quite sure how you are related to.

14. You took Greek folk dance lessons and kept it a secret from your non-Greek friends at school

You understood the moves of “Hammer Time” better than your friends due to the extensive, secret, Greek folk dance lessons you took since the time you could walk. Sadly, the only place you were able to fully show off your folk dancing skills was in Greece on your summer vacations, at weddings and festivals.

15. You ate dessert after lunch and dinner

Your packed school lunch came with (at least) one dessert and after you went home and ate dinner in the evening, you had another dessert. It seemed normal at the time.

However, as an adult, you realize otherwise (and are probably a bit more diet-conscious!) But, as a child, it was just another part of your typical, sweet Greek-American childhood.

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