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Greek Nursery Song

Mia orea petalouda

Mia orea petalouda

Mia orea petalouda

seva kampo mia fora

Mia orea petalouda

Mia orea petalouda

Mia orea petalouda

Otan ercetai h auoizh tou zana kai peta makria

Transliteration:

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

Come winter it falls and dies

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

When spring comes alive again and flies away

Translation:

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

When winter comes away it goes like it has died

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

One beautiful butterfly

But when spring comes it is alive again and it flies away!

This Greek nursery song was recorded by my grandmother,Yiayia (Yiayia), and was sung to all of us throughout our childhood, however mostly as babies. There is a hand motion resembling a butterfly that is performed along with the song. Yiayia told me that her mother used to sing this song to her when she was a little girl in Greece, but that it was not only a family song. When she would play with other kids from her village, they would all join hands and sing this song, “You know, like ring around the rosie or something,” she explains. Yiaya described how she used to sing the butterfly tune to my mother and her siblings, at first because she didn’t know any American nursery songs, and then, as her English became stronger and once they officially moved to the United States, as a connection to her Greek identity. By the time Yiayia was repeating this melody to her last born, they had been in the US for 11 years yet Greek was still her children’s first language. A sense nostalgia visibly swept over my grandmother as I questioned her about this little nursery tradition. Reflecting on her employment of this lore clearly helped to provide Yiayia with a sense of meaning and purpose for these small aspects of her child rearing. Yiayia continued to describe how passing along the butterfly song to her kids was an important way for her to feel connected to Greece, especially because her established life in the US was perpetually tormented by her own sense of guilt for leaving her homeland.

Given the context of when Yiayia grew up singing this nursery song, its lyrics become specifically telling of her childhood culture in Greece. The song is about a “beautiful butterfly” that dies in the winter but comes alive in the spring, joyfully able to flutter its wings and fly free. On a surface level, the song teaches its audience (children) about the seasonal changes and rebirth of spring. However, there is deeper meaning within this child lore. The presence of death and dark symbolism associated with winter appear harsh for a children’s tune. Nevertheless through analysis of its context, Mia orea petalouda is actually a hopeful song for children.  The Germans occupied most of Greece at the time of my grandmother’s childhood. She often reminisces about the constant sense of fear and confinement she experienced at such an early age. Yiayia often describes that her most prominent memory of her village as a child (around age five) is of two very tall German soldiers sitting outside the house once inhabited by her cousins. The combination of her bewilderment for where her relatives were, along with the prominent and forbidding German figures starring at her across the road, ignited within her the trepidation, which characterized much of my grandmother’s childhood. Mia orea petalouda suggests to children that although there is a dark time in life, a “winter”, a brighter time will come again – when the children (the “butterfly”) can be alive and free.

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