It is Easter this weekend here in Greece, and as I write, Symi is about to be rocked by festivities.
I first experienced Greek Easter in 2003, and I’d never seen or heard anything like it. At that time, we were living in a house at the top of our village, only a few yards away from one of the larger parish churches. We were so close, we could hear the mechanism of the bells before they chimed, and when they did ring, would often have to turn the television off, because there was no point in trying to watch anything; all you could hear were bells. That was one thing, and we got used to it and enjoyed hearing the bells on the hour and the half, at weddings and baptisms, and, later, at Easter.
But Easter in Greece is not only about bells. There are various stages of Lent, the 40 days before Easter. Even before then, the traditions start with a Monday where the last of the cheese is eaten, a Thursday when the last of the meat is consumed, and a carnival, or a Mardi Gras, as they have in other countries around the world. If you follow the Greek Orthodox way of life, you follow a strict diet throughout Lent, which becomes stricter during ‘Great Week’, the seven days before Easter Sunday. On ‘Big Friday’ (Good Friday) for example, you don’t use cutlery, you don’t work, and the island falls eerily quiet – except for the day-tripper tourists. It was during my first Easter here that I experienced the literal silence of the lambs. There were many not far from our semi-rural house, bleating away during the lead up to Good Friday, and then on Good Friday… Silence.
Lamb is the main staple of the Easter Sunday feast. Say no more.
Today, Easter Saturday, is another quiet day that leads to a very noisy night. Yesterday, the effigies of Christ were removed from the crucifixes in the church and laid on decorated biers. Villagers parade this, bring it into the churches which are decked in black and indigo, and a very serious and funereal service takes place.
The services continue through Saturday, leading to what we might call midnight mass on Saturday night. Then, at midnight, all the lights in the churches are turned off, and the priest appears with the sacred flame. This has come from Jerusalem to Athens by special plane and is used to light other candles and lanterns, which are then passed down to the towns, cities and islands. At midnight, the priest uses the flame to light the candles worshipers have brought, and people share their flame with their neighbours, so the light spreads further.
This happens at the moment of the resurrection, midnight, and with candles lit, everyone returns home to mark their doorway lintels with X and A, standing for Xristos Anestsi. Χριστός Ανέστη. Christ is risen.
Easter Sunday is a time for feasting, relighting the barbeque, visiting family, and celebrating the new beginnings, and on Easter Monday, there is a national holiday. The ceremonies continue with the burning of Judas (an effigy, often wearing the mask of the global villain of the day, this year, I imagine, it will be Putin), a bonfire and fireworks.
And while all this is going on, there is the noise. Children and many adults delight in warding off evil spirits by setting off bangers (firecrackers), some much louder than others. Teenagers in particular love to find places where the sharp bangs echo most and make the loudest noise, and it takes some getting used to. Then, on Good Friday night and Easter Saturday night, in particular, the menfolk are up on the hillside with massive barrels stuffed with dynamite which they ignite. It’s no exaggeration to say the island rocks. Depending on where you are, you might find debris falling on your head, you can see flares shooting up and dropping onto rooves, lighting the sky red, and some people set off fireworks too. For as long as I have lived here (20 years), I’ve never heard of a fire or serious accident, which is something of an Easter miracle.
I will try and upload a video of the proceedings tonight and share on my facebook page.
That’s where I am right now; in the middle of the Greek Easter weekend. Down here in the South-East Aegean, Symi is starting to wake up after a long, wet and cold winter — we had snow for the first time in many years — and tourists are beginning to return.
Harbour and village businesses are opening, though the beaches and water taxis aren’t up and running yet, and we have our first visitor too. My mother is staying for a month, which is fun. Luckily, she understands that I have ‘Seeing Through Shadows’ about to come out next week, and I am currently working through the final proof, organising the cover, setting up publication on Amazon and doing those 101 things that need to be done ahead of the release date. That, by the way, should be during next week.
You don’t have long to wait to meet our new characters, Chester Cadman, Henry Hope and Edward Hyde. You’ll find out who falls in love with whom, what eccentricities Fleet is getting up to, and some of the history behind Larkspur Hall. There’s a ghostly mystery to solve, and a few exciting things happen in a bath, a bed and a laboratory…
I will say no more, except. Kalo Paska – Happy Easter – and remind you to look out for Wednesday’s work in progress blog where I’ll tell you more about ‘Seeing Through Shadows’, the Larkspur Mysteries, book four.