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Davis, California

Friday, July 12, 2024

Column: Muttness

This past Sunday while many people drove home to their families to celebrate Easter, others stayed in Davis and used the quieter atmosphere as an excuse to catch up on neglected homework. And then there were a few who, like me, celebrated an Easter of the Greek sort.

To me, Greek Easter is nearly indistinguishable from American Easter except for a few things. One, it goes by the Julian (rather than Gregorian) calendar, and must always fall after the Jewish holiday of Passover. It’s only a coincidence this year that Greek Easter and American Easter happen to overlap. And two, I bet you “Americans” don’t have egg-cracking contests.

The ritual consists of first tie-dying a hard-boiled egg for each guest. The eggs then sit in a large glass bowl throughout the span of Easter dinner, waiting to be unleashed and work their fighting magic after the sun sets and the bellies digest. Some Greeks choose to wait until after dessert to crack eggs with one another, while others dive right in after dinner. The aim is pretty basic: one-on-one round-robin tournament until the best egg wins, emerging from the competition unscathed. This year, my teal egg was champion at the kids’ table, but was met with defeat at the adult’s table against my dad’s mighty red conqueror.

Another thing about Greek Easter is that we’re big meat eaters, so you’re more likely to encounter platters of lamb at a Greek Easter gathering than at an American one. We don’t roast it on a spit like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but you’ll see it making the rounds in long thick strips at both the kids’ and adult table.

Our obsession with meat often poses a challenge for my vegetarian sister, who still has to explain herself to baffled older Greek ladies every time she politely declines their offer of oozing red meat. This year she lucked out by discovering that my uncles had cooked stuffed zucchinis and feta cheese potato strips in addition to the lamb. My dad’s Greek salad is also a vegetarian staple at family gatherings, whether or not we’re hosting the event.

Though my family celebrates Greek Easter every year, I don’t identify primarily as Greek. Some people have a master identity or an aspect of self that largely overshadows their other components. I’ve always seen myself as more of a mutt when it comes not just to nationality, but to means of identification in other areas as well.

In a queer studies class I’m taking, we’ve spent time discussing intersectional theory of identities. The theory generally is applied to systems of oppression, emphasizing how inequality isn’t black or white. Many oppressed groups belong to various marginalized identities, as opposed to just one, and the interlocking of these identities only exacerbates the inequality.

But in a lighter, looser sense, intersectionality to me is just a way of describing more complex, less linear identities that can’t be easily summarized or referred to in shorthand. Holding various, perhaps even discordant, identities often allows for some mobility and selective identification. Without being tied down to one, we can conveniently identify with one when we’re practicing an act that is more tolerated by that aspect of identity.

For instance, in Greece they’re a bit less progressive than over here. I feel that if I lived there and identified as a prototypical Greek, I’d probably face some cognitive dissonance with being gay and Greek at the same time. For this reason, I don’t think of myself as a gay Greek; I identify as an LGBT individual whose dad was born in Cyprus.

I also like to account for the 25 percent of my blood that belongs to German ancestry and the 25 percent belonging to Czech. But the 50 percent of me that’s Greek always looks forward to occasions like Sunday.

Rather than being emblematic of my identity, I see the Easter ritual as just cool and kind of random. I’m by no means your prototypical Greek, but for many of us, the small fragments of identity we embody are only small pieces of our full persona. That being said, a lot of those pieces will be random and cool.

For instance, the fact that my family has paid-for lodging in two Greek countries is not a perk that everyone gets. I also never would have started collecting model donkeys if it wasn’t for souvenirs brought back from those countries that augmented my army of snouted friends.

The traces of Greek culture that constitute my life were largely unrealized when I was younger. Both my sister and I weren’t even aware that our dad had a Greek accent. Accustomed as we were to it, we just assumed it was the “standard” American way of speaking. And though I know most kids didn’t have their dads come in to teach Greek folk dancing and serve baklava to a classroom of culturally naïve second graders, I never thought much of it until I had the processing skills to reflect on the experience and say to myself, “Wow – this is actually kind of cool.”

I’ll be looking forward to the next Greek event come May 15 to17 at the Greek Festival in Oakland. Come join me for your own bite of lamb if you didn’t get to eat any on Easter!

ELENI STEPHANIDES can be reached at estephanides@ucdavis.edu.

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