Apr 20, 2011

Greek Easter: A Celebration of Spring Awakenings

It's no hyperbole to say there is no celebration more joyful, more optimistic, more heart-wrenching, in its way, in all of the Greek calendar (and it is already full of those) than Orthodox Easter. The awakening of spring, which sheds its pagan archetypes shining upon everything is walking hand in hand with the tradition of a pious Christianity that is nevertheless smiling, instead of morose, and lenient, instead of boasting a stern Biblical face.

In the processions of the Holy Week, especially in the sunny, picturesque countryside and on the numerous islands, I can still witness the joie de vivre that can exist only in cultures that have been deprived for long; it is only then that people can appreciate the smalleest pleasures, the generosity of nature itself, the simple human contact that needs no social agenda whatsoever. Man is enjoying life, much like he did in the classical era, because he's not entirely convinced there will be a better one, even though the prospect of one delights his soul through the promise of spring's and Christ's resurgence. In Greece where the National Revolution also symbolically sprang along with the first throes of spring, resurgence takes on a loaded nuance: the soul fills with renewed courage for every hardship ahead.

The spring air is aromatized with fragrant effluvia from trees and plants, an intoxicating bouquet that is hard to forget: bigaradiers with orange blossoms in full bloom, bushes of lilacs (called Πασχαλιά/Pashalia in Greek because they bloom exactly during the month of April, when Pasha is celebrated), violets in deep shades but also stocks (Mathiola longipetala) with their spicy, skatole-rich, intense aroma. Dill, thyme, spearmint and humble chamomille are beginning to make the countryside smell like a giant pasture or one enormous kitchen herbs cabinet.
And of course food, glorious food: from red Easter eggs, which make households smell of vinegar and onion peel (traditionally used to "anchor" the dye on the hand-painted egg) as they're prepared on the eve of Good Friday, to the succulent, sweet, cardamom-laced Eastern bread which whets the appetite for the feast of Sunday.

Greek Easter is a Dionysian celebration...

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