All photographs by Erika Sidor
Back when I was a child and attended a Presbyterian church, baptizing a baby was no big deal. The parents and baby came down to the front for a few minutes after the Sunday service, the minister sprinkled some water on the baby’s head and said a few words, and it was over. I don’t even remember that I had a godparent, although I must have.
When I married a Greek in 1970, I quickly learned that in the Greek church, baptisms are a really big deal, involving ritual, dancing and a fancy sit-down meal after the elaborate church service. When Nick and I baptized our three children, the godparents presented their godchild with a new set of clothing and a gold cross. And every time, my father-in-law, Christos, led the dancing while balancing a glass of Coca Cola on his head. (And he never spilled a drop!) Here he is at the baptism of daughter Eleni in 1975. She was only 11 months old, but after watching her Papou, she started dancing Greek-style, holding her little hands in the air.
Last November, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio threw a baptism party for their second child, Nicolas José, no one danced with a glass on their head, but everyone had a rollicking good time, even nine-month-old Nicolas, once he got over being submerged three times in the baptismal font.
Here’s the family ready to leave for Saint Spyridon Cathedal in Worcester. Nicolas is wearing the antique christening gown that his abuela, Carmen, brought from Nicaragua. It’s been worn by babies of the Oyanguren family for over 100 years. Mommy and Amalia are dressed in accordance with the color palette Eleni chose for the baptism: dark blue, light blue and silver. (Eleni works for Martha Stewart, so there’s a color palette for every party.)
Nicolas is always ready for a party! Here he is waving at his about-to-be godmother Amy Ambatielos Pappas and her husband--another Nick.
Once he was carried to the baptismal font and Father Dimitrios Moraitis blessed the water, Nico looked a little worried. On the right is Nico’s godfather, Gerardo Baltodano Cantero, the brother of Emilio’s father Alvaro. “Tio Gerardo” came from Nicaragua for the baptism along with his wife, Maria Caridad.
When Father Dimitri immersed Nico three times in the water the baby protested loud and long.
By the time his godparents had dried him off and dressed him in his new clothes, Nico had calmed down a bit, but still wasn’t happy. Here his Godmother Amy leads a procession around the baptismal font to symbolize his new life as an Orthodox Christian, while his godfather Gerardo carries him.
By the time everyone arrived at the Cyprian Keyes Golf Club, Nico was ready to party. Eleni decorated the tables with the theme of Saint Nicolas, baby Nico’s patron saint, who is the protector of sailors. The centerpiece on each table was a sailboat topped with two tiny flags—for Greece and Nicaragua. The adult favors were small icons showing Saint Nicholas rescuing sailors from a storm, tied around the traditional bag of Jordan almonds. The children’s favors were sailboat cookies (and each child took home a sailboat.)
Here are Amalia and her Yiayia Joanie examining one of the sailboats.
Before the meal began, Eleni, Emilio and even Amalia welcomed everyone. Once Amalia saw the power of a microphone, she didn’t want to give it back.
Nico’s Papou, Nick Gage, gave a beautiful blessing, saying in part, ”I want to wish him a long life full of the love, joy and wonder he is feeling today, I want to express the hope that all of us will be around to dance at his wedding…But if I don’t make it, I hope that those of you who do will tell him how deliriously happy I was today that he was given my name to carry on throughout this century…And finally I want to wish Nicolaki a blessing we say in my village: ‘May he live as long as the mountains’.”
Later it was time for photos. Here is Nikolaki flanked by his godparents. Nick and Amy are holding their son Alki, who is looking forward to a sibling coming this year.
And here Nico is with his grandparents. That’s Abuela Carmen Oyanguren on the right.
Then the dancing began. Here’s Amalia leading Papou on the dance floor.
Now she’s in a line of dancers that includes her great-aunt Alexandra Stratis, her cousin Anthi Vraka, and her Mommy.
Even Nico’s non-Greek relatives from his Grandma’s side—namely Great Aunt Robin and Great Uncle Bob Paulson, cut a mean rug during the Greek dancing. (But then Robin’s a professional dancer.) At the far right is Amy’s Mom, Vicky Ambatielos, dancing with her grandson Alki.
Finally, Papou Nick asked little Nico if he would like to learn Greek dancing. Nico said yes.
So, although the baby’s Papou Nick did not balance a glass of Coca Cola on his head, as his great-grandpa Christos used to do, Nico’s Papou gave him his first lesson in the kalamatianos, and that was even better.