My parents are in town at the moment.  They arrived ten days ago, to spend a traditional Greek Easter in London.  Everyone else beats a hasty retreat back to the motherland, but my parents arrive in time for Holy Week every year.  I suppose it is what they are used to, and all their children live here, but if I’m honest, I don’t see the attraction. 

To be fair, I have nothing to compare it to.  I have never spent Easter in Greece, I have always been here, a combination of Greek Easter often cropping up on non-bank holiday weekends, and the fact that most of my extended and all of my immediate family live here in London.  This year however, the two Easters were at the same time and so we were pleased for two reasons: one: I only had to fast for one lent, and two, there was time off work to do all of the things that we are wont to do.  It’s no fun having Greek Easter on a non- bank holiday weekend because it’s over too quickly and we don’t get to see as much family, eat as much lamb etc. 

Anyway, my parents arrived as I said, a little while ago, and Mum arrived with a terrible cold and sore throat.  By the evening of their arrival, her voice was gone.  This led to a rather hilarious breakdown in communications with my dad.  Dad is extremely hard of hearing.  Mum had no voice.  All communications between them were suspended.  So this meant that either I had to be in the room bellowing what Mum was whispering, or Mum had to try and shout without a voice.  Actually what happened was that they both had a fairly peaceful few days.  One morning though, Dad got up to see where Mum was, looked in all the usual places and panicked because he couldn’t find her.  Poor Mum could hear him calling her and was ‘shouting’ “I’M HERE!!!” from the bathroom.  Fortunately, D intercepted Dad before he reported her missing.

We forget how much we rely on simple things like our partners/family/friends actually being able to hear us when we speak.  I am a bit hard of hearing so I struggle communicating with people who speak really quietly.  My brother-in-law is one of those people, and as a loud person, I find it really hard to talk to him for any length of time when there is anything else going on in the room (and that includes things like the kettle boiling, or someone reading a magazine and turning pages).  It’s almost as if as soon as he gets going, his voice drops to keep your focus.  I am not too shy to ask him to speak up thank goodness.  His brother-in-law on the other hand speaks at a level that I assume only his wife and animals can hear.  I know we are loud, and this makes us seem angry and obnoxious, but really speaking at such low levels just makes it impossible to have a conversation.  My best conversations with the extremely quiet A have been in the car when it’s just the two of us, or in places where the nearest person is behind several closed doors.  I just do not have the auditory capacity to simultaneously filter any external noises and actually process what I am hearing at those levels.

Anyway, Mum’s voice is back with a vengeance, and I am convinced that Dad is looking back on the last few days with nostalgia now. 

So back to the Easter thing.  There are all sorts of traditions we follow at Easter, and when I was growing up, it seemed to me that we did Greek Easter more traditionally than the Greeks in Greece.  As is often the case, when you move someone from their country, they hold on to the familiar.  So my family really held on to the traditional Greek Easter.

It would start on Palm Sunday, when we would attend church, and then go either to my grandmother’s house (now my house) for a fish lunch, or out to a restaurant for a fish lunch.  I don’t remember if I have shared before how I feel about fish, but let’s just say that kicking Easter off with a fish dinner doesn’t bode well for the upcoming activities.  The next two days were quiet.  We were just not allowed to eat meat.  Then on Wednesday, we would come home from school, have a quick dinner and then come to my grandmother’s for the Efchelaio – the blessing of the oils.  This would involve the reading of 7 gospels and 7 epistles.  We would stand around with my cousins, trying not to giggle at some rude sounding words that appear in a couple of the gospels. It would finish at around 11:30 and we would go back home, bed and school the next day.  After school on Good Thursday, we would rush home, dye eggs: a rather involved procedure involving the whole house smelling of vinegar *, and then go to Church for the reading of the 12 Gospels.  My mum would drag us to church at 5:45 for a service that started at 6:30-7 to make sure we got a seat.  By the time the service started, we would have lost the will to live.  All our fruit pastilles would be gone, and we would have played top trumps until our eyes bled.  The first Gospel read on the night is the longest; it was like Russian Roulette.  There were three or four priests at the Church we go to.  One of them – Father T – read and spoke very fast.  The other two not so, but there was one priest, he was the slowest speaker you have ever heard.  His name was Father P and he was a lovely man who spoke as he chanted: s-l-o-o-o-w-l-y.  He had this way of talking that drew every syllable out as much as possible, but to add insult to injury, he also paused between syllables. Every sentence from this man took an age, and if he stepped up to read the first Gospel, you knew you were going to be there for at least an hour.   Halfway through the service, they would carry a wooden figure of Jesus out and re-enact the crucifixion.  Then the rest of the service was spent queueing to kiss the cross.  By Thursday evening we were already starting to feel over-churched, so when Friday dawned, the words – hurry up we’ll be late for Church weren’t really what we wanted to hear.  Good Friday in our family is just a series of religious activities.  Unlike English people who buy sofas and do DIY on Good Friday if TV advertising is anything to go by, we would go to Church in the morning, swiftly followed by a trip to the cemetery to honour our deceased family members, and then in the evening back to Church.  By Friday evening we were questioning our ability to stand for more than 10 minutes in a row.  Saturday morning was the time we had been building up to though.  I mentioned we weren’t allowed meat from Palm Sunday.  This system of fasting basically eliminates food groups as you go along.  By Friday you aren’t allowed meat, eggs, dairy, oil or fish.  Basically anything tasty is out of the question.  It’s usually boiled lentils with vinegar on Good Friday.  Saturday morning was the reason for the fasting, and we would all pile into the car to go for communion.  Nothing to eat or drink before communion, and we fell on the stale bread they give you after the wine like starving hyenas faced with juicy carrion.  And really, the cubed bread has been sitting there for hours, it is hard, stale and dry as a bone.  Still though it may as well have been a croissant we were so hungry by then.  Home then with the fasting embargo slightly lifted – dairy is now ok (but probably not for the purists) – and then the long wait for Church in the evening.  It is a late evening service, and we used to go to the small church that the Archbishop set up in his garage as that service finished at 10:30 instead of 11:30 which meant that we were one hour closer to our midnight binge.  And midnight bingeing are really the only two words to describe what we used to eat in the middle of the night after the Saturday evening service.

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Efchelaio presided over by Fathers Th. and S.

 

We would gather at our house, and start with Magiritsa, a soup made with lamb and lamb’s innards.  Then we would have cold cuts and salads and tsoureki and wash it all down with copious amounts of wine and dessert.  Finally, at about 4:30am, we would fall into bed exhausted, having cleared most of the debris, only to wake up 5 or 6 short hours later and drag ourselves over to my uncle’s house to eat our weight in meat again.

This year, we had the service at home on Wednesday, dyed eggs on Thursday and then everyone else did the Church services, but I don’t attend any more.  I stay at home and prepare nistissima (foods you can eat whilst fasting) and feasting foods for Sunday.  We have also stopped the midnight dinner because it was too much for everyone involved.  My uncle still welcomes us on Sunday though, and this year my sister and her husband also had us over for a BBQ on the Monday.  So despite the fact that I do not participate in all the church-going, I still feel like Easter was celebrated.

Needless to say, Easter Monday is always spent groaning and ingesting antacids by the handful.

Still, Christ has risen, so that’s nice.  

 

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* I imagine the procedure isn’t so involved if you are dyeing a dozen eggs. We used to dye a minimum of six dozen.

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