Many of us will recall with fondness the glory days of the sillogo. Whether it was tagging along to the New Year’s Eve dance with our parents or grandparents, eating souvlakia at the endless summer barbeques, or attending weekly Greek dancing lessons and performances. The seventies, eighties and nineties saw the sillogo thrive.
Established by migrants who landed in Australia, and similar for the entire diaspora, in the 1950s and 1960s as a way of maintaining their connection to their hometown and its traditions and cultures, it was also a means of enabling connection to each other in their new homeland. Decades later, it would provide the backdrop to many a proksenio and forging of lifelong friendships amongst the younger generations. From the Samiotes, to the Cretans, the Epirotes and the Koans, the Mytileneans and the Pan Macedonians there was a booming sillogo to represent every region.
Inevitably, as members age and the younger generations experience varying levels of interest, sillogous have started to dwindle, both in numbers and activity.
Undeterred by all this is the recently revamped Thessaloniki and Environs Association “Ayios Dimitrios” being driven by a committee of Greeks who have been in Australia less than ten years, with Ritsa Bratani at the helm as President. Their goal is to keep the older generations happy while at the same time instill a relevance for young people.
Speaking with Bratani, who overflows with ideas and enthusiasm, it is impossible not to get caught up in the excitement. The committee has big plans for the future. In the short term, they include celebrating the month of October, which holds great significance for Thessaloniki, the heart of Macedonia and Greece’s second capital city due to the feast day of its patron saint Agios Dimitrios on October 26th. There will be Karakiozi performances, the result of weeks of workshops with children and the elderly at St Basil’s Nursing Home working together on their puppets and scripts, and an annual dance on the 28th October.
But it is the event with Our Big Kitchen that has caught my attention. This event will see members, as well as anyone else who would like to participate, cooking six meals traditional in Thessaloniki and Macedonia, which will then be donated to Father Nektarios of Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox church, who feeds 100-150 homeless and disadvantaged people on a daily basis.
The thought process behind this event was to make dishes native to Thessaloniki and Macedonia, such as bougatsa, the ‘politiki salata’ and even imam bayildi. Participants are aiming to provide Father Nektarios with 300 servings. Whilst they already have a good number of people who have registered, Bratani is hoping for more so they can donate more servings. Participants will also receive a cookbook with the recipes as well as a tshirt, cap and certificate of appreciation.
“The dishes we have chosen are ones everyone will be able to make,” says Bratani. “Kids over the age of 7 years old are able to participate. They will be able to see that the 2-3 hours of their time on the day will have a result, will make a difference.”
Every child who participates will have a letter sent to their school principal informing them that their student has volunteered their time to prepare meals for the homeless. “We want our activities to be educational as well as really fun and we try to come up with contemporary ideas,” says Bratani.
For anyone interested in joining the Thessaloniki and Environs Association Ayios Dimitrios, Bratani emphasises that it doesn’t matter if you are not from Thessaloniki, as long as you have a love of northern Greece. More information about the Association as well as regular updates can be found on the Facebook page- facebook.com/thessalonikisydney/
For anyone interested in helping out at the Our Big Kitchen event on October 8th in Bondi, you can visit this link for tickets – https://www.stickytickets.com.au/54953 or call 0405 409 386.