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Cottonwood Holladay Journal

To celebrate Greece, students sing and speak in Greek

May 09, 2018 02:40PM ● By Travis Barton

Children sang songs in both English and Greek during a program to celebrate Greek Independence Day at Saint Sophia School. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com

“It gives them a global perspective, which is really important.” 

That’s what kindergarten teacher Megan Garza said shortly after wrapping up the children’s program for the Saint Sophia School Greek Independence Day Celebration. 

Dozens came to celebrate Greek Independence Day in March at the Holladay school located inside the Greek Orthodox Church building along Highland Drive at 5335 South.

The program featured children from toddler to kindergarten age singing songs in both Greek (including the Greek national anthem and “Three Little Fishes”) and English (including “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “This Land is Your Land”). The celebration also included a few poems read in Greek by the students, with a grand finale Greek dance (Kalamatianos) performed by the older children. 

Garza also has a daughter at the school so she enjoyed the program twofold.

“As a teacher it's amazing to see the kids excel in Greek language and Greek culture,” she said, having also witnessed her child reference Greek in daily language and sing it at night before falling asleep.

“It’s amazing that they’re adapting so well at such a young age; they're like sponges,” Garza said.

Greek is the foundation for much language in law and medicine. “For them to have this exposure now at a young age, they'll be able to draw on that knowledge as they go through school later in life,” she said.

The students began work on the program in January with Greek teacher Sissi Sakellariou, who said she started out nervous about the vocabulary, before eventually reacting to the performance with a “wow.”

“If you’re not Greek speaking, they are very difficult words,” she said.

Many of those students are not Greek speaking nor Greek-American. Which made it all the more impressive for Father George Nikas, the cathedral dean for the Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake.

“The fact that you have Americans singing the Greek national anthem, and quite well, and all the Greek songs and dancing is a testament to the teachers — first and foremost,” he said. “But also to the children themselves and their zeal for wanting to learn about other cultures…it was a beautiful day today.”

Celebrating both American and Greek cultures was important to the teachers, so students could experience one different from their own.  

“It’s just about acceptance and it’s about being exposed to something that is beyond their norm and beyond them so it opens their eyes that there’s a big world out there,” Garza said.

Greece celebrates March 25 with two holidays, faith and civic based. The date is nine months before Christmas so it commemorates the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a child, Jesus Christ. 

It also celebrates, Nikas explained, Greece’s freedom after over 400 years of Ottoman Turks occupying their homeland. The war raged from 1821 to 1830.

“The idea (of the double holiday) is that they were liberated from their physical captivity and slavery, but they were also spiritually liberated — with all humankind — with the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ,” Nikas said.