No, not really. In fact it isn’t due for three weeks, April 24 to be precise, but I just can’t wait. I have the Easter bunny bug. Come to think of it, I don’t think the Greeks even have an Easter bunny but if they do it only lays red eggs, and not that often on the same date as its Catholic or Protestant Easter bunny buddies.
Yes, blood red eggs (kokkina avga) are a tradition in the Greek Orthodox Church, symbolizing the blood of Christ and rebirth—in life as well as season. The secret of the color, according to some, is to prepare the dye from the skins of yellow Spanish onions. I guess that means you could say Greece and Spain have been together in the red for a lot longer than just the past couple of years. [No wincing, please.]
As for why different dates for the same holiday, there are two answers—one easy one not. The simple answer is that Greeks and others of the Eastern Orthodox faith calculate their Easter based upon the Julian calendar while Protestants and Catholics use the modern Gregorian calendar. If you want to know precisely how the date is determined, the explanation starts to sound strangely reminiscent of some I’ve heard for Greece’s current financial woes:
“The determination of the date of Easter is governed by a computation based on the vernal equinox (the point at which the ecliptic intersects the celestial equator, the sun having a northerly motion) and the phase of the moon. According to the ruling of the First Ecumenical Synod in 325, Easter Sunday should fall on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox. If the full moon happens to fall on a Sunday, Easter is observed the following Sunday. The day taken to be the invariable date of the vernal equinox is March 21.”
I think it best we just say that Greek Easter follows the Julian calendar (though both are on April 24 this year) and leave it at that.
But no matter how the date is determined, Easter is by far the main event in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is preceded by more than a week of significant religious and cultural observations. And on Mykonos, Easter literally brings the island back to life.
|Mykonos in Springtime|
In the winter, Mykonos is a sleepy island village with virtually no tourists, no business, few open bars, fewer restaurants, and no clubs. But come Easter Week everything changes. Red and yellow springtime poppies burst to life all over the island’s hillsides, and those and still more varieties of flowers embroider the blanket of green covering the nearby holy island of Delos. There are Church services every day of Holy Week, as well as daily preparations for the feast to come at the end. Breads and cookies are readied on Monday and Tuesday, baking is done on Wednesday, and eggs are dyed red on Thursday, the day Christ was put up on the Cross.
|Tsoureki Easter bread|
By Thursday, Mykonos is filled with mainland Greeks flocking to their vacation homes and others looking to participate in a perfect example of spiritual and temporal coexistence: Easter church rituals strictly observed during the day, followed by the island’s as nearly hallowed party traditions through the night. But that taste of the coming mid-summer craziness is short lived, for if you don’t catch the action that weekend come by in June, because Mykonos is back in hibernation come Tuesday.
|An Epitaphios in procession on Mykonos|
Evening services on Good Friday start at seven in the old town’s three main churches, Kiriake, Metropolis, and Panachra. At precisely nine, each church’s clergy and worshipers leave their church in separate processions carrying their church’s epitaphios (the painted or embroidered cloth representation of Christ on a bier elaborately adorned in spring flowers and symbolizing his tomb) along a prearranged route, winding past the other two churches before ending up back at their own to complete the service. It represents the funeral of Christ, and Mykonians and visitors line the route, some standing on balconies and sprinkling the participants below with a mixture of rose water and perfumes, the rodhonoro used on Christ’s body when taken down from the cross.
The same three churches serve as the scene of the following night’s Holy Saturday services. Most generally start heading off to church around ten, but for certain everyone is there by midnight. For that is the high point of Easter, when church bells ring out across Greece and even total strangers exchange the traditional Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti greetings that Christ has risen, kiss each other, and light each other’s candles to share the light and joy of the occasion—a light brought to Greece for just this purpose from the Holy Flame of Christ’s nativity cave in Jerusalem. Worshipers carry the light back into their homes or their favorite restaurants, except for the hearty souls who remain in church for the balance of a service that lasts hours more into the morning.
|Midnight in Mykonos|
Now it is time to challenge each other with the customary one-to-one smacking of those dyed-red eggs for good luck to the winner (mine always cracks first) and devour the traditional mayiritsa soup (made from parts of a lamb you may ask me about if you really want to know), fluffy tsoureki easter bread, and salads to break the forty-day fast leading up to Easter.
But the big feast, the one everyone looks forward to, comes on Sunday. That’s when all the work of the week and all the spring lambs find their purpose. There is church, too, of course, but this day is more about celebrating with family and friends. And eating.
|The star of a Greek Easter Sunday (center)|
Dieting starts Monday. Kalo Paska
Jeff — Saturday