New York.- Ekavi Valleras of Astoria, Queens bursts into exasperated laughter. Sheʼs recounting the untold machinations of her youth and the adult frustrations of the biannual kalanda carol rounds where she was raised—Astoria and Athens, Greece. “On Christmas Eve morning and New Yearʼs Eve morning—and I mean six oʼclock in the morning—they are leaning on the doorbell. Na ta poume! Na ta poume! (May we sing!)” Valleras compares kalanda to the American Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating: The carolers “know to start early, because by eleven no one can stand to hear the song one more time, and everyoneʼs out of cash. When youʼre a kid, you scheme to hit the expensive stores and houses first.”
Valleras, program coordinator of the Greek Cultural Center on Hoyt Avenue South, notes that kalanda are just one of many winter holiday traditions kept by Greeks in Astoria. “It really feels like a neighborhood here. Itʼs about trying to keep traditions alive, keeping kids within the community, close to the language and the religion—so itʼs not lost.”
Every year New Yorkʼs storefronts, brownstone windows, and front stoops erupt into color as each of the cityʼs cultural microcosms celebrates its own winter holiday. But as Valleras points out, evolution is inevitable in such close quarters. In parts of Greece, the kalanda are still sung every morning from December 24 to January 7, as they once were in Astoria. Sweets used to be given out to children, but as fewer housewives had time to bake the intricate, honey-soaked diples, kourabiedes, and melomakarona pastries, cash became the accepted custom. Itʼs also now the norm to share some celebrations with local Korean families in Queens, many of whom participate in the late autumn festival at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
*** From BROOKLYN RAIL