The best part about cooking for Easter is that most of the food, apart from the roast meat (sorry, but that's a man's job), is cooked from the day before, leaving the hostess free in the evening to go attend the midnight church service of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I also managed to see most of Ben Hur, one of my favorite films (it's always shown on Greek TV during the Holy Week). I took my son to the midnight church service in the nieighbouring village of Galatas, a village which has special significance for me, and we bought the Holy Light back home with us. The evening air was crisp but pleasant; a dry windless spring evening (it gave no clues to the damp weather that was awaiting us the next day). The atmosphere was warmed up by the congregation that had turned out for the liturgy, as well as the candles that everyone was carrying, not to mention the bonfire at the burning of the effigy of Judas.
We were standing next to an old couple. They were really quite odd for Greeks. The elderly man was wearing a top hat and he came out of the church holding his candles like everyone else, chanting: "Straight from the altar!" I received the Holy Light from him and proceeded to light our candles. His wife was standing next to him; at least I can assume that she was his wife because she kept asking him for a kiss.
"Kopse tis malakies (= cut the crap)," he replied to her.
"Hey, don't we kiss each other when the Holy Light comes out?" she retorted, puckering her lips.
"Wait till you hear the priest say 'Hristos Anesti', he reminded her. So she waited, and when the priest finally started chanting Hristos Anesti, the old man kissed her.
In the meantime, the bell ringer was having problems; the rope hanging from one of the bells had gotten tangled up in a flowerbed. The bell from the other side of the church would ring, but when it was the other bell ringer's turn, nothing happened.
"Vale dinami! (= put some strength into it!)" the old woman said to him.
Firecrackers were going off left, right and centre. Judas was being burnt on the stake and the whole square resembled an inferno. A public phone bos caught fire, but no one attempted to put it out. People were wishing each other Hristos Anesti (= 'Christ has risen'), to which they got the reply 'Alithos Anesti' (= 'Indeed He has risen'), and most people started moving away from the square towards their cars, getting ready to warm up the gardoumia stew awaiting them at home.
After enjoying the fun and revelry, we went home and were greeted by the remaining family.
"Χριστός Ανέστη!" my son greeted his father and sister (she still can't tolerate fireworks).
"Αληθός Ανέστη!" they replied, exchanging kisses.
Ben Hur was still playing. "Can we have our Easter eggs now?" The children weren't so much interested in the chocolate as the presents the eggs contained. We all munched on the chocolate and stayed up till late. Being a small family, we decided not to gorge on a midnight feast on our own - the time will come when we start this tradition up again, maybe by inviting guests or visiting others. We nibbled on the best kalitsounia I've ever made (I say that every year). The best part about this evening was that we were all happy and healthy. God bless everyone!
Easter menu 2008:
kokoretsi (sheep's innards tied with intestines, charcoal roasted on a spit), BBQ spring lamb chops and pork steaks, Cretan meat pie, lettuce salad, egg-and-lemon goat, sourdough bread, Easter kalitsounia, koulourakia, tsoureki, red eggs
And just for the record, there was no sun, but it was warm enough to sit outside (Hania has a mildly humid climate - I'm the one in the green top, the blue-jacketed male is hubby, but my children aren't in the photo).
UPDATE: I visited the same church a year later (2009), and the delightful couple who I saw at the church was also there, up to their usual tricks.
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MORE EASTER TRADITIONS:
Greek Easter in New Zealand
Cretan meat pie