Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

Easter in Athens


Lamb spits are in full spin mode for Easter this morning, but to us it’s just another day. In fact, I’m even working.

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.

Holy programming

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.

To Fos

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 :)

Christos Anesti!

17 Comments

  Dora wrote @ April 27th, 2008 at 18:12

Aren’t Greeks hysterical, crazy people? I have my own bunch of them here in NY so I know first hand. Enjoy the day!

Allithos o Kyrios!

  rositta wrote @ April 27th, 2008 at 19:01

Good story, I was thinking of you today. We are doing the “thing” but it’s not so bad for me…ciao

  GANIG wrote @ April 27th, 2008 at 20:47

I was very embarassed to watch a few minutes ago all those poor Greeks begging for a plate of food on Easter Day( Alpha TV). Wow…

  λ:ηρ wrote @ April 27th, 2008 at 21:51

Nice perspective Kat. The whole affair about the light (ie Holy Light, Resurrection Light, Divine Flame, etc) is such a joke.

It all starts on Saturday, in Jerusalem, at the Church of Holy Selpuchre. Armenian and Greek orthodox monks stage fistfights around the, presumed, tomb of Jesus. Tradition has that the Greeks only can enter the tomb and “touch” the divine flame that descents miraculously from heaven. (For the less gullible, the flame is touched from a lantern behind the tomb stone). But Armenians also want to enter the tomb and the Greeks, in a true sign of brotherly love, beat the living lights out of their Christian brothers to protect the monopoly on miracles.

Then the Greek Government sends a 737 airplane to Israel, to receive a lantern with the divine flame and bring it back to Athens. This flight is chartered by Greece’s Dept of Foreign Affairs and paid for with taxpayer money. Dignitaries and other cult personalities are on board this plane.

Upon arrival to Athens, the divine flame is received in style: the same protocol that you would expect for a head of state visiting Greece. Military band, honor guard, red carpet, the whole nine yards. The flame is spread on multiple lanterns which are then transported to all dioceses across Greece, either by scheduled flight or, in some instance, by military transport.

Such a sad documentary about a nation’s self-pity.

  EllasDevil wrote @ April 27th, 2008 at 22:26

Happy Easter Kat!

I hope you enjoyed the day.

  K wrote @ April 27th, 2008 at 22:41

Kat, I agree that the ceremony can be ridiculous sometimes,however fun is part of the celebration.It is complicated how Greeks view the whole thing.It is just a chance for self expression.(You see hot girls in church with heavy make up,boys doing wars with foreworks outside church to scare the crowd and impress the girls,middle aged serious women and widows trying to appear as serious and grieve as possible,everyone plays his role and after the end there is gossip about what each one wore,which girl looked at the boy etc.Difficult to explain if you are not familiar with greek customs.

  λ:ηρ wrote @ April 28th, 2008 at 03:21

I cant resist this.

Ridiculous “self-expression”: Easter in Greece.
Radical self-expression: Burning Man in Nevada.

  Kat wrote @ April 28th, 2008 at 04:03

D – No comment. Alithos anesti!

R – I’d rather be with you, but alas it is not my fate. :)

GANIG – My impression was that not all of those people were homeless. After all, some of them were wearing some pretty spiffy clothes and a little overweight. How many starving homeless people do you know who are overweight?

L – They fight with the Armenians every year. Not really a good Pascha message or that of brotherhood. I knew about the flame from Israel, but only because I know someone who was assigned to accompany an official in the ceremony.

ED – Actually it was good because we had no obligations. Thanks and filakia!

K – Actually, I don’t think the ceremony is ridiculous, I think people’s behavior is deplorable. Also, I’m extremely versed on Greek customs after 11 years here and working for the Archdiocese, but it’s understandable you assumed otherwise since you only read 20 articles (of 220) before posting your comment. I’d also like to point out that posturing, gossip and ridiculous “self-expression,” which I mentioned last year, has nothing to do with customs or traditions. That’s just what they’ve deteriorated to, as people forget the meaning of what Pascha is really about. It’s not complicated, it’s about Christ.

L – Burning Man used to be a gathering of few to get back to primitive beginnings when it started in the mid-80s — I went. But that also has deteriorated into a commercialized, cultlike doobie party with music and rules as it gained popularity. I think you know I’m not criticizing you; I’m saying that even the “radical” has been watered down.

  GANIG wrote @ April 28th, 2008 at 05:10

Extremely hard to believe that the flame that the 737 brings to Athens comes from haven and it is not lit by a human being. I agree that it is a joke when you see all these characters putting an act in churches, but that is how things are and we must respect tradition. When you see so much injustice in the name of religion, when you lose people dear to you that although they were saints they suffered in the worst possible way while monsters continue to live a full life, when you see that the Greek Orthodox belief is just one of many, created by humans and continuously updated by humans, you know there is something fishy here.
My all time favorites are when there is an accident and somebody walks away unhurt or misses a flight that went down and he/she says ” It was a miracle! God kept me from dying!”. Meanwhile you are watching other passengers’ body parts being collected amongst them little chidren. And your priest says ” Unable to understand the will of the Lord”. An annual favorite on every channel is “The Holy Mother’s snakes” that for a short period was overtaken by “The Crying icons” who actually cried not only in Greece but thanks to Greek Americans they cried in the States as well ( even in remote monasteries).

There are might be a higher source of intelligence, the Creator ( as in Star Treck ), but I seriously doubt that Jesus and his folks had anything to do with Greek Orthodoxy.

  K wrote @ April 28th, 2008 at 13:34

I gave you a way of thinking of some people inside Greece.How they view the ceremony.It does not have to do with you.

Anyway,we often see in CNN and other channels videos of priests with black clothes.long beards,singing from nose,carrying crosses etc and this image can be used to expose Greece as a byzantine,monolithic,traditional,patriarachal,backwards country with no real connection to wesetrn world.This happens especially when media show pictures of serbian priests who look exactly the same as greek but the context of the presentation is a bit different.

Of course the media will never exaggerate on this unless sth extremely unpleasant happens in Greece like let’s say a massive demonstration for Macedonia.

Also apart from the greek hypocrisy which is rampant,I have to admit,there is the western hypocrisy as well which is very annoying to people in balkans.Western hypocrisy has a different name,they may call it tact,humor or public relationships while greek hypocrisy may be called huge gap between social picture and real individual in private life or sth like that.

Anyway,if sb is religious he is free to express himself.Others maybe pressed to attend ceremnonies because of social environment but this is Greece,it is not always a bad thing.So many people gathering together,kissing each other.it relieves tensions.

This is my opinion but your view as a foreigner is more interesting.I agree with everything you write about life in Greece.Problem is nobody dares to admit all that publicly.

Kat Reply:

Typically when someone uses my name and the word “you,” I tend to think it is directed at me; if that’s not the way you meant it, it wasn’t clear to me.

Also you didn’t give me (or us) “a way of thinking of some people inside Greece” because the things you said are things I’ve written about and most everyone knows even if they don’t live here. Pretending and kissing each other in public is acting and does nothing to relieve tensions or change anything — i.e. My fiance’s cousin kisses him at Christmas, but still owes money and badmouths him to everyone we know. In any case, my original point in sharing stories about the light was not to point out hypocrisy (eastern, western, wherever) or enter any sort of debate because I believe we agree, rather it was a message from my heart about realizing our own potential. I’m saying we are blessed if we believe it — it has nothing to do with the light or anything/anyone else.

  K wrote @ April 28th, 2008 at 16:58

For me all the opinions you have expressed in this blog are very refreshing because at least sb gave the things their real name,they described them the way they are and not like we Greeks pretend to be.We need more voices like that and more guidance by America.The country needs some bold people to admit the reality first and try to correct what can be corrected.
We lack this openess to disclosure in Greece.

  maria v wrote @ April 28th, 2008 at 23:51

thanks for sharing some funny moments about pasxa with us – personally i don’t believe much anymore (i think richard dawkins is right), so i don’t mind changing traditions a little to suit my preferences. i feel that festival days either bring out the worst or the best in us. this year, i had a good easter – not the case other years…

oops, i forgot to mention i love BEN HUR!

  λ:ηρ wrote @ April 30th, 2008 at 19:27

Indeed BM is not what it used to be. I’ve never been there but I have close friends who were among the founding few. They continue to go there every year still.

Watered down as it is it remains radical but not ridiculous, at least not yet.

BTW, what’s up with the annotations on guests comments?

  G wrote @ April 30th, 2008 at 22:30

@K,

Greece needs guidance from America? Uh.. I think young, naive, delinquent America needs some major guidance from her parents, Europe.

As for Greeks, they themselves are the biggest whiners, they are admitting the country’s realty everyday.

  The Scorpion wrote @ May 1st, 2008 at 07:34

Europe is like the old woman trying desperately to keep her beauty, but not realizing graciously that her time has passed, whereas America is the hot new chick on the block with years ahead of her, always changing with the times and not afraid to lead the way even with constant peer pressure.

  Kat wrote @ May 1st, 2008 at 11:09

GANIG – Not sure how to respond to that. I have no problem with people believing in whatever they do if that works for them and doesn’t harm others, but when someone starts bastardizing something or interpreting it to fit an agenda, I think it’s gone down the wrong path.

K – Typically when someone uses my name and the word “you,” I tend to think it is directed at me; if that’s not the way you meant it, it wasn’t clear to me.

Also you didn’t give me (or us) “a way of thinking of some people inside Greece” because the things you said are things I’ve written about and most everyone knows even if they don’t live here. Pretending and kissing each other in public is acting and does nothing to relieve tensions or change anything — i.e. My fiance’s cousin kisses him at Christmas, but still owes money and badmouths him to everyone we know. In any case, my original point in sharing stories about the light was not to point out hypocrisy (eastern, western, wherever) or enter any sort of debate because I believe we agree, rather it was a message from my heart about realizing our own potential. I’m saying we are blessed if we believe it — it has nothing to do with the light or anything/anyone else.

K – Greece will only take advice from other Greeks, not the USA or the EU. So that’s irrelevant. In fact, I wish you’d kept the USA out of this because: a) It has nothing to do with Pascha or this post; b) I can feel the discussion taking a turn for the worse.

MV – Thanks for saying that, I think people didn’t see the humor in it and I’m glad you did — in fact, I feel this post is descending into a religious and political debate, which is totally off topic now. It’s supposed to be about taking things easy and believing in ourselves. I also see nothing wrong with customizing Easter a little; we do because we’re not incredibly religious and don’t pretend to be. It’s good to hear you had a good Pascha :)

L – Some of my friends stopped going when BM got too commercial for them.

Not that I need to explain, but I do annotations on some comments because I intend to return a commentator’s irrelevant comment to the moderation queue and I don’t intend to leave my response there, so I see no point in creating only to delete. Also, due to time constraints and an unstable DSL connection, I prefer to leave a thought or two while I’m thinking about it that minute and move on. When I create a comment to one person and not others, I believe it makes others feel left out, and it takes quite a bit of time to write everything out. i.e. It took 30 minutes just now to fix this string. As you might have noticed (or not), I post a lot less these days, even though I have a ton of subjects I could cover. That’s also due to time constraints and additional projects on my plate. I already sleep a lot less, I don’t see what more I can do except let this site die or answer no comments or questions.

* Well, just as I predicted, this discussion (like so many others on this site) has again deteriorated into an “America is this, and ___ is that” face-off, having nothing to do with Easter or the original humor and spirit of this post.

Sorry, comments are closed at this time.