Easter is the main event for the Greeks with Christmas coming in long after The Feast to the Virgin in August, Ephiphany in January and a scattering of other religious celebrations. It’s taken seriously even by those who don’t take it seriously. We spent Easter on a small island and got swept along with the celebrations (and some of the less celebratory moments). It’s pretty difficult to avoid the Church because there’s buildings all over the place and where there isn’t a church you’ll find some small shrine with a lamp burning. Just to make sure that you don’t avoid the Church the bells are rung, loudly and longly, and if you didn’t hear the bells then you’ll definitely hear the loudspeaker outside the church. I imagine some people must sit through all of the services but it seemed that mostly people just wandered in and out as they pleased. If they fancied a cigarette then they popped out for 10 minutes. Mobile phone ringing? Just pop out and take the call and have a chat with some friends after. I had a peep inside the church to see what was going on and when I was in there it was like a cross between a religious service and a bunch of hippies getting laid back. The priest and the alter boys were scattering flower petals around and shaking incense while two men chanted in the background. There were so many candles it was a fire hazard. There aren’t many seats inside the church and most of them are taken by the elderly ladies who natter away, now and again being distracted by children running around with their new toys. God and Mammon met at the Church gates with a large stall devoted to selling the definitely secular items of Easter: plastic tiaras for the little princesses and guns for the little princes.
On Good Friday there is a procession through each village – the procession of the epitaphios. We attended outside church as good tourists rather than anything else hoping to get some good photographs.
But there were so many people there, at least 500 I think, that the procession was a blur.
We followed the procession for a short way and then had the idea that if we cut up through a couple of side streets we’d be able to come back in in front of the procession and see it that way. What happened is that we ended up going wrong and losing the procession entirely so we found a busy taverna and sat down with some wine. After about 20 minutes we saw the procession coming back round to go past the row of tavernas and at this point everyone who hadn’t felt it was important enough to actually go to church to see the procession depart stood up. Waiters stopped, the kitchen staff came out, everyone was silent and remained so as about 500 people filed past. After they’d gone it was business as usual.
On the Saturday we’d been asked by our hostess if we would be joining them for the Mayiritsa Soup which is traditionally eaten to break the lenten fast after midnight. Mr T would probably eat the table before he’d tuck into that so we declined and she did say that she could give us some food earlier if we would like. This is the point where we should have paid attention because our idea had been that we’d go out and find a lovely Greek dinner and then hang around the church yard for the celebrations at midnight. The village was as quiet as winter despite the tavernas being open. The waiters were sitting around smoking and playing backgammon and then we came in expecting to be fed. The only food available was the lenten fare of octopus in vinegar, lentil soup and spinach with rice because no one was cooking. No one should expect to eat before midnight. We drank a lot of wine and watched as the village started to come back to life from 11.00pm. By 11.45 the church was full, the churchyard was full and the crowd overspilled into the road next to the church. At midnight the priest came out, shook some incense and announced Christos Anesti. Everyone had a candle and the first one was lit from one of the candles held by an alter boy and the flame passed around. Then the fireworks were let off and the mood changed from religious to celebratory and everyone drifted off with their lit candles to eat their soup of intestines.
On Sunday we ate the lamb.