Monday, May 6, 2019

Our Big Fat Greek Easter

Easter is always the biggest holiday in the Greek Orthodox calendar, but this year we celebrated the best Greek Easter ever, because it brought together grandchildren from both coasts for a week of fun and adventures and getting to know each other.

Here's the crew--left to right: Stone Suire age 3 1/2 and his sister Eleni, 1, Nicolas Baltodano, 4, baby Gage Antonia Hineline--four months old and meeting her cousins for the first time-- and Amalia Baltodano, age 7.  Stone and Baby Eleni belong to Frosso, the daughter of "Big Eleni" Nikolaides,  who has lived with us for 40-plus years. Nico and Amalia belong to our daughter Eleni, and Baby Gage is the firstborn of daughter Marina, so they'll all grow up together, we hope,  as loving cousins.

Even though they were too little to join the egg hunt in the front yard, these two stole the show.

Eleni and her kids got to Grafton, MA, Friday night, (Emilio flew in later) and on Saturday they ventured to the Hebert Candy Mansion to see the Easter Bunny.  Amalia's expression is meant to signal that she is highly suspicious of the identity of the Easter Bunny, but I warned her not to say anything that would make the Bunny feel bad, as well as the crowd of little kids waiting in line, and she complied.  After the bunny, we got sundaes at the make-your-own sundaes bar.

On April 21, Eleni and Papou Nick went to church for Greek Palm Sunday and then we had carrot cake with one candle for Baby Eleni and four candles for Nico (he's lower left, behind Amalia), both of whom had recent birthdays.

That day was when Amalia began making Easter eggs with the "Egg-Mazing Egg Decorator" to use as place cards for all 23 people who would join us the next Sunday for Greek Easter.  (This year it fell a week after Catholic Easter.  The two Easters are sometimes on the same day, or as much as a month apart.) Amalia worked all week, customizing the eggs by asking everyone's favorite colors.

On Wednesday we all went to church for Holy Unction, which involves the priest putting holy oil on your eyes, mouth and hands, so that you will see, say and do beautiful things instead of bad ones.  "Does this mean I can't say 'Poop' any more?" worried Nico, referring to his favorite dirty word.

On Thursday we went to nearby Green Hill Farm,  a (free) petting zoo, and everyone met peacocks, llamas, goats, exotic fowl, miniature donkeys and horses and very fluffy sheep.

On Good Friday, daughter Eleni and "Big Eleni" Nikolaides prepared the traditional red eggs, making patterns on them with flowers and leaves held in place by pieces of panty hose wrapped around and tied with dental floss before the eggs are put in the dye.  After they're taken out and cooled, the eggs are rubbed with oil to make them shine.  The photo at right combines the red eggs with Amalia's striped ones.

On Holy Saturday everyone hurries to church for the "First Resurrection" after having fasted throughout Holy Week (or, for the very devout, for the seven weeks of Lent.  The priests at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Worcester dramatize the joy of the moment by tossing bay leaves everywhere (which Nico tried to pick up) and giving out hand bells to ring (when the priest said so.). Then we all gathered at an IHOP to order  the kind of breakfasts we've been forbidden until now--but no meat until after midnight.

Despite all the Easter preparation, these three moms, Frosso, Eleni and Marina, managed to complete this puzzle of Great Americans in time to photograph it, then clear it up to set the kids' table for tomorrow.  Eleni and her father went to the midnight resurrection service, then came home to crack red eggs, saying "Christ is Risen!" "Indeed He is Risen!" and eat the traditional Mayeritsa soup.  While everyone slept, the Easter bunny hid more than 150 eggs in the front yard and filled the five  large Easter baskets with goodies (as well as five smaller baskets for the kids coming tomorrow.)

Finally it was Easter Sunday!  Amalia found the golden egg on top of a pot of pansies.  Then Tia Marina helped everyone open the eggs to discover what was inside.

Next everyone checked out their Easter baskets.  Yiayia Eleni pointed granddaughter Eleni to hers.   Nico admired his new disco cup (it flashes) and Amalia tried her new stick-on nails, while Marina and Baby Gage watched from the sidelines.

It was time to go to church for the Agape service followed by another egg hunt, this one in the church auditorium.  St. Spyridon's was so crowded that we were sent upstairs to the choir loft, where we got a beautiful view of the congregation below, with everyone trying to keep their candles lit to take home.  The patriarch of the family uses his flame to mark another cross on the top of the house's door.  Amalia kept hers lit too, a tradition that always makes me nervous, waiting for the odor of singed hair.  (Children get fancy decorated candles, called "Lambadas" at Easter, from their godparents.)

Back home the table for adults was set in the dining room.  Amalia was thrilled to hear that she was going to be the boss of the kids' table in the living room (because she was three years older than anybody else.) She even wrote down a speech which began, "Hello, I'm Amalia and I'm the boss of the kids' table.  If you have a problem, come to me.  If you get bored, there is a paper with instructions and a coloring sheet..."

Then the feasting began: lamb, of course, spinach pie, chicken and rice pita, giant beans, Marina's special salad and so much more, ending with a dome-shaped Princess Torte from Crown Bakery. The party went on until Eleni and family had to leave for New York.  Marina and Baby Gage flew out to San Francisco the next day, leaving two grandparents grateful for this best Easter ever, and hoping that we will all come together again as the little ones grow, to make more Easter memories.