Part of the “pilgrimage” of taking our children to Greece involved visiting the relatives and connecting with our ancestry. We visited my husband’s relatives in a major city on the mainland and we visited my relatives in my dad’s village on the peninsula of Peloponesus. My maternal ancestors’ island is not as accessible. Everything about the village experience was delightful….but there was one specific day and activity that connected my sons to their ancestry in a somber and powerful way. Just as I did when I was a child, we took our sons to the village cemetery where our ancestors are buried. My husband, sister, and three sons went with a relative of ours to the cemetery on a perfect June day. Our relative brought the necessary accessories for honoring and commemorating the deceased at their tombstones. My sons watched with curiosity at any differences in the way that it’s done in the village. Back home in the states, I take my sons to the cemetery frequently where we visit the tombs of loved ones and light incense as we make the sign of the cross with our censer at each tombstone. The boys noticed that family members in the village keep oil in recycled soda bottles —something they had never seen before as a use for a soda bottle. The purpose for that is to have oil ready to light the candles. According to my father, they may want to light the lanterns if they are there at nighttime. There were many differences about the burial process, too. We learned that three years after the burial, there is an excavation and a service in which the bones are washed. This is done to make more burial space. The family places the exhumed bones in a box. The box is stored in special room room called “osteofylakeio“. “Osteo” is a Greek word for “bones” and “fylakeio”is like a keepsake or storage. A place of safekeeping.
We walked through the cemetery and talked about various ancestors with my sister and relative. It keeps the memory of that person alive. It also adds more to your child’s identity to find out how they are connected to someone’s story or life. My sons grew increasingly attached to the village cemetery and where they fit into the ancestry. They studied the iconography of the village chapel which my family members helped build. To see a tiny chapel like this was even different and significant because we had been in so many massive cathedrals on our European trips.
But this tiny chapel held so much meaning for our sons when they learned and understood its history and ancestral connection. We saw a beautiful tree growing into the window of the chapel. We spoke to a nun whom we’ve known for years. At the end of the cemetery visit, my oldest son heard a bell ringing …steadily. This happened at the moment that we were incensing my grandparents’ graves! He was perplexed by this because we observed the bell tower when we arrived at the cemetery. The rope was tethered to the fence, had not been loose at all and no one was ringing it.
My son ran up to our relative and asked, “How can the bell be ringing?” Our relative whispered back, with no eye contact, “it’s just the wind.” We were not convinced by this because there was no wind! It never happened again while we were at the cemetery–only at that particular moment. My son still recalls this mysterious moment. I will always remember it as the moment I “introduced” my sons to their great-grandparents graves. This day was a good example of how Greece engages your senses and transforms you.Stories like this can be found in the book, A Magic Carpet Ride.
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Follow this lesson plan to build trip itineraries with your family: