Being raised in a Protestant family in America, every Easter I have celebrated has involved hunting for hidden Easter eggs, eating way too much chocolate, and seeing the family. But this year was different, because I spent Easter in Greece with my girlfriend and her family, taking part in all the Greek Orthodox traditions in Kipoi, a small village of 100 people nestled in the mountains of Euboia, one of Greece's biggest islands and just a short drive from Athens.
Easter in Greece lasts a whole week, but the central festivities begin on Thursday night with the crucifixion service. We gathered at the church with the whole town. The Greek church was much more colorful and elaborate than the simple Lutheran church I was used to, which has stained glass windows but few other decorations. Their church was covered floor to ceiling with colorful pictures of saints and icons, a large gold chandelier decorated with gold double-headed eagles (the symbol of the Church, taken from the Byzantine Empire), and many candles.
The church was so full that I had to push to move around at all - and I was constantly being lightly pushed back by other people moving around. The priests chanted in ancient Greek, telling the story of Jesus and the crucifixion, filling the church with a lyric rhythm that, together with the smell of frankincense, almost lulled me to sleep, despite the chaotic atmosphere. The rest of the congregation chanted along, but I hummed the tune. At the end of the service, a cross depicting Jesus was carried around the church, with all of us pressed against each other, watching. Afterwords, we stayed at a friends' house, which was decorated with bright red-dyed Easter eggs (one for all 13 of us), colorful candles, and even Easter bunnies.
On Friday night, we lit candles and listened to the priests' chant about the three women cleaning Jesus and burying Him in the tomb. At the end of the service, an epitaph was carried around the streets, followed by us and the rest of the town. The epitaph was an elaborate wooden ark that represents Jesus' tomb, and it was decorated with many flowers and gold carvings, with an elaborate Bible lying inside. For Greek flower shops, Easter is the busiest time of the year, with every church needing hundreds of flowers for their epitaphs. The epitaphs are quite heavy, requiring at least four men to carry them, and it can be difficult navigating the narrow, steep streets. The procession ended around midnight, and we went home to be with family, talk, and drink Greek coffee.
Saturday night was resurrection night, and after sunset, we went to church. We brought our own candles this time, decorated with blue ribbons. Many other people have more elaborate candles, with figurines, colorful ribbons, and even superheroes for the kids. We light our candles from fire brought from Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem, and it is quite special to see an entire town gathered in one place, everyone with a candle. At midnight, several firecrackers fire for around ten minutes, with the small children (and some adults) jumping at the loud explosions. We exchange kisses and wishes, saying, "Many happy years," and, "Christ is risen." After the service, we went home and ate margeiritsa, a soup made with lamb meat and liver. We also had an egg war, where you tap your Easter egg against everyone else's - if your egg doesn't break, you will have good luck for the year, and I was the lucky one with the strongest egg!
On Sunday an uncle roasted a whole lamb on a spit, a process that takes more than four hours. While the lamb was turning, family and friends sat outside, talking, eating, and drinking. Some of us went into the countryside to pick fresh herbs for lunch. Once the lamb was golden brown, it was taken down and butchered by the table. After forty days without eating red meat, the lamb was a special treat, and we ate almost the whole animal, head and all. The skin was salted and the meat marinated with a butter and olive oil mixture, so it was tender and tasty. After lunch, we sat talking some more, eating baklava and fruit, and letting our feast digest before we drove back to Athens.
Happy Easter and many happy years!