Yesterday was Good Friday and once again we trooped off to pick up our slaughtered Easter Lamb from Bahnan's Market on Pleasant Street in Worcester, where they celebrate Easter every year in four languages. Once again, I got queasy in the ice-cold room where the lambs were hanging and had to escape to the fresh air outside.
Today, early, we rushed off to church without a bite of food, eager to end our fast with communion. Then we made our annual pilgrimage to the Pancake House where we wallowed in treats forbidden during the past weeks of Lent (but no meat--yet!). Now we're dressing for the late-night Easter service which culminates with the church in complete darkness until, at the stroke of midnight, Father Dean announces "Christ is risen" and the light from his candle spreads throughout our congregation and then through the city and through all the world as we make our way home, protecting the flame, and begin to eat mayeritsa soup and crack our red eggs in competition to see whose is strongest, repeating each time, the great good news: "Christ is risen!" "He is risen indeed!
(If you would like to read a delightfully humorous, lyrical and personal description of the rituals of Orthodox Holy Week as written by daughter Eleni, click on her latest post on her new blog "The Liminal Stage, below." )
Below is the saga of our Greek Easter as I reported it last year in a post called "Easter in Four Languages." The story this year was pretty much the same. That's one of the great things about ritual, tradition and holidays.
Today is Good Friday and in a Greek household that means we can’t eat dairy or meat (that’s been going on for 40 days) and also today we can’t eat oil, so on Good Fridays we usually end up surviving on things like plain baked potatoes and peanut butter on crackers.
But today the Big Eleni, who lives with us and is the best cook in the world, has all sorts of “fasting” Good Friday food ready – Halvah, stuffed grape leaves, rice-stuffed tomatoes, taramasalata (made from fish roe) and some sort of artichoke/spinach/ hummus concoction. And boiled shrimp.
Today was also the annual dramatic journey into Worcester to collect the lamb which we had ordered far ahead from Bahnan’s Market on 344 Pleasant Street. As you can see from the first sign above, the people at Bahnan’s are ready to sell you your Easter needs in four languages: English, Greek, Turkish and Arabic.
(And they now have a café where, according to local Greeks, you can get the only authentic gyros for miles around.)
Shopping at Bahnan’s is like a visit to the United Nations, but on Easter week it’s like several festivals rolled into one.
There was a considerable line of people waiting to get into the refrigerated back room to receive the lamb they had ordered and have it cut up to their specifications. And this was in the morning, before church let out. I imagine by afternoon the line was out the door.
I didn’t last long in the refrigerated room, because of the cold and the proximity of all those lamb corpses, some of which looked the size of a small horse. (Our lamb was very small—I believe 27 pounds.)
I had to escape before the butcher started sawing, I couldn't take it, but this process is still easier than some early Easters in Nick’s Northern Greek village when the adorable baby goats were tied to each house’s front door knob and my offspring loved petting them. Then I had to drag the children, (all three under ten) out of town on Holy Saturday to prevent them seeing the general bloodshed as the baby goats were slaughtered and the blood ran in the street.
In the village on Easter Sunday you see spits outside every house, each one tended by the patriarch who is drinking homemade moonshine called Raki and having a good time. We sometimes do the lamb on the spit outside in Grafton, but not when Easter comes this early.
(By the way, this is a rare year when Orthodox Easter and everyone else’s Easter are on the same day. Usually we Greeks are later because Orthodox Easter has to be after Passover. It’s complicated.)
In the photos above you see the Big Eleni shopping for Greek cheese at Bahnan’s. We already have our large round Tsoureki bread with the red egg in the middle. And on Holy Thursday, as always, we dyed dozens of eggs red for the Saturday-night egg-cracking duel when you challenge everyone – saying “Christ is risen” “Indeed he is risen”. Crack! And whoever’s egg comes out the winner gets the other guy’s egg.
Tomorrow—Holy Saturday—we will all go to church very early and without consuming as much as a drop of water beforehand. We line up to take communion and then are free for the first time in seven weeks to eat dairy (not meat. Not yet. But we are free to rush to the Pancake House where we traditionally stuff ourselves with high-calorie breakfast treats that have been forbidden for weeks.)
Then it’s back to church again at midnight.—for the dramatic Midnight Mass on Saturday night when the church is plunged into darkness and the priest comes out at the exact stroke of midnight with a single candle and announces ‘Christ is risen!” Then the flame passes from his candle to everyone else’s and the church fills with light as we sing the Resurrection hymn: “Christos anesti!” We try to keep our candles lit as we drive home to break the Lenten fast by cracking eggs and eating the delicate dill-and-egg-lemon soup made by the Big Eleni out of the lambs intestines.
(Actually, she doesn’t put in the intestines because she knows that our kids would never eat it. In fact one is a vegetarian. And after my visit to the market today, I understand perfectly.)
I hope wherever you are celebrating Easter or Passover -- in any language – you are enjoying warm spring weather. Here in Massachusetts it has finally stopped raining and will be a beautiful weekend. Kalo Pascha!