Easter in Athens
My Greek counterpart opted to lie about our whereabouts this week to escape going to his dad’s village for Pascha (Easter). I don’t agree with lying, but it wasn’t my choice to make. Because we refused to be controlled, and I didn’t like the idea of being paraded around church as the exotic American, we went to his mom’s village last year (see, “My village or yours“). Therefore, we were plied with guilt for the past year democratically obligated to attend the three-day egg-stravaganza in his dad’s village this year. Attending the Christmas “thing” and dedicated dinners apparently counts for nothing.
The Pascha “thing” is different than the Christmas “thing,” namely because the theme of death continues past Christ’s resurrection at midnight Saturday. My Greek partner’s cousin was hit by a drunk driver and died tragically many years ago, so Aunt Eleni forbids all music, dancing and general merriment of any kind on Pascha Sunday. I’m told that it’s just a bunch of relatives eating, dispensing unsolicited advice, fighting, sleeping and starting the cycle over again. We get that on a regular basis already around the theme, “Where’s my grandchildren?” except without the traffic and five-hour drive.
So instead of rising early in the village to the sound of goat bells and clucking chickens, I awoke to the sound of landlords screaming, hammering and setting up a spit that has been groaning and squeaking for hours. The dog downstairs is a bit nervous right now, presumably because he sees a roasting carcass that looks a lot like him.
You also wouldn’t know we’re in the southern suburbs of Athens. People from congested neighborhoods have come by bus or car and taken to our streets, beaches and roadside patches of land to start fires and create their own Pascha, which explains why the air is wrought with smoke even though our neighborhood is empty. It’s like Tsiknopempti all over again, except with people leaving garbage outside our houses. It’s lovely.
Anyone who has ever watched TV in Greece during Holy Week knows that there is virtually no regular programming at night, just movies with a biblical theme, and Solomon, Claudius, Caesar, King David. I like tunics and cassocks as much as the next gal, but every night on every channel of every hour? After seeing three crucifixions in one night, my partner said he was “Jes’d” out.
On the “news” last night, I was appalled by how a TV hostess exchanged her supposed star presence in a village for a free Paschal vacation, then demanded that all residents roast their lamb indoors and hide their red eggs because she doesn’t like them. This was followed by a plethora of footage about taking the light.
It occurred to me that nearly everyone I know has a “taking the light” story.
The first one I heard was about Pavlos’ father. Before firecrackers were banned during Holy Week — though we’ll see photographic evidence to the contrary and hear how many people had their arms blown off — Pavlos’ father had various parts of his body burned and refused to get the light after enduring too many years of this. Being firm believers in tradition, Pavlos’ mother pushed her husband out the door and locked it until he went.
In Yannis’ village, the masses bum-rushed the priest when he appeared with the light and put it out. Putting out the light is bad, in case you didn’t know. The next year, the priest refused to come out of the church and scolded everyone from behind the door about their behavior the previous year. Finally, the mayor stepped forward, convinced the priest to let him in, and the light appeared after a deal was struck that everyone remain in their positions and respectfully take the light in an orderly manner. It’s been peaceful ever since.
Someone attending Nikos’ church grabbed the light from the priest and ran off with it one year, so a decision had to be made to light another or forget the whole thing. After some discussion, another was lit, but somehow the moment was lost.
My partner told me that in his dad’s village, people are so aggressive that they once kicked down the church door when the priest was hesitant to come out.
Why all this fuss for the light? In addition to what it symbolizes, the first person to take the light is said to be blessed more than others for the whole year.
I think we’re all blessed if we believe we are, and that’s that