In Greece at Easter, all the boys in the village somehow acquire very loud firecrackers that sound like grenades, and set them off every few seconds. They keep this up all night, only stopping at dawn when they jump on their motorbikes and roar home to sleep for a few hours before starting over the following afternoon.
Yesterday was Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) so it’s not over yet. Christ hasn’t risen, but there’s a lot going on. Last night we went to watch the procession down in the port, near the main square in Myrina, the main town where we live. It’s not really a square, more of a triangle where 3 streets meet around some tress and benches where the fishing boats tie up.
On Good Friday, and for the week preceding it, nobody eats meat or dairy products, just beans and vegetables. We have been eating our beans and vegetables – mostly spinach and beets and edible weeds (dandelions) from our garden, on the front terrace under a canopy of mauve flowers, which are now beginning to drop, one by one, into our plates. Luckily, they too are edible. (This week we also found 3 large, delicious portobello mushrooms on the mountain, and I fried them up, but Themis wouldn’t eat them. They were good!)
So Themis and I, and probably the rest of the population, have been farting all week. On Good Friday, everything comes to a head. Yesterday, the bells of three churches were tolling randomly all day. It works like this. Every few seconds, in some church, a priest strikes a bell once or twice, and a few seconds later, another bell answers from across town. It creates a constantly strange, spiritual atmosphere.
Around 10 pm, there is a procession from one of the churches. About an hour before, people start showing up downtown in their Sunday best. Men, women, little kids, teenagers. Harbour police in very high heels and cute uniforms, standing next to their male counterparts in more conservative outfits. All the young women wear high heels or knee high boots and short skirts, with little black jackets, no matter how cold it is – but last night the weather was perfect and the stars were shining.
Everybody hangs around waiting for the very slow parade which files out of the church of the Panagia (Virgin Mary) and winds down past the supermarket and the beach they call “Turkiko,” and then past the seaside tavernas to City Hall where the spectators gather. First come the military band in their camouflage suits and little flat helmets, marching very slowly, playing a dirge for Christ, who is in his tomb. Behind them come some priests and more soldiers and little girls, surrounded the Epitaph which is the tomb, like a small Greek temple decorated with flowers. Then another small marching band, and hundreds of townspeople, carrying candles and singing a simple hymn. In a few minutes the whole port is a sea of people, and the Bishop or main priest comes out on the steps of City Hall and sings some Liturgia for a minute or two. Then the whole thing turns around like a big snake, and the military band leads them all, very slowly, onto the next stop, another church on the other side of town. Meanwhile, bombs are exploding all over the place, throwing off smoke, which adds to the festival feeling.
At the next stop, Agia Triada (Holy Trinity), the people go inside the church where they pick up a flower, and re-light their candles at the holy flame. Then it’s time to go home, trying to keep their candle from going out, and if they make it, they use the flame to draw a cross on the wall over their front door, which purifies their homes and brings good luck in the coming year. I did this once, on Hydra, but I had to walk from the church all the way to my house in the next village, and on the way the flame went out. So this year I didn’t attempt it.
Themis and I went home and lit our hurricane lamp and sat under the mauve flowers on the trellis and I ate some chocolate in remembrance of the Easter bunny.
Today it starts again. The stores are open and people are rushing to buy lamb for their Easter dinner. Tonight at midnight, Christ will resurrect and everyone is supposed to stay awake for that big moment. Then the hard part’s over and it’s time to sit around and eat goat’s stomach soup – Themis and I will not be doing that, but we’ll probably light a candle and eat something – we haven’t decided what – and go to bed.
Easter Sunday is mostly about eating a big dinner, and going downtown in your best clothes and drinking a coffee in the sunshine, and watching the other people walking by. So I hope the weather stays beautiful so we can maybe go for a motorbike ride to the mountains and look for more of those big mushrooms.