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Friday, April 14, 2006

AN EASTER MEMOIR

GOOD FRIDAY, April 14/06
Why is it always gloomy on Good Friday? Beginning yesterday, when the icy rain started again (is it really Springtime?) my mood became oppressive. Last night, at the bus stop waiting after my class, a deep feeling of melancholy came over me. In my mind a tune began to play, the bolero I sometimes danced to with Anibal. It made me feel sad and I began to review all the events of the past months, and the tragedy of his passing. This weekend, I'm going to spend Easter with his daughters and grandchildren.

When I was growing up, Easter was always a special religious holiday celebrating the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Beginning with Good Friday, (which as far back as I can remember always seems to turn out a cloudy, gray day) through to Easter Sunday morning when we went to church, it was a solemn occasion though my parents honoured the myth of the Easter Bunny too and when we woke Easter Sunday morning we'd find decorated baskets of chocolates bunnies and eggs and coloured eggs for our breakfast.

One thing I recall best was all the new clothes we would get: shoes, stockings, dress, hat, gloves and sometimes even a new coat. Usually my Mom, an expert seamstress, made us our new dresses and the accessories were bought to match. As Dad was the pastor of the Church, he'd make sure the church was decorated with lilies and other spring flowers although lilies seem to be the most significant flower of Easter. The Easter service was a joyous celebration of Christ's resurrection, with appropriate songs and Dad's special Easter sermon.

After church we'd go home to a delicious meal prepared by Mom (who was also an excellent cook). The traditional fare in our house was either ham with pineapple and scalloped potatoes or lamb served with mint dressing. In the afternoon, all deciked out in our new Easter duds we'd head for Stanley Park for a walk among the gardens with their spring arrays of tulips and daffodils, strolling under the blossoming trees in the soft spring sunshine.

This was the way my family and I celebrated Easter for years until I experienced my first Greek Easter, or Paska, and became invovled with the wonderful traditional Orthodox celebrations that began at the beginning of Lent with Apokries (Carnival) and led up to Good Friday when the funeral bells tolled all day long. At night we'd gather outside the local church and watch the processional of the carrying of the symbolic Christ into the church, everyone holding bees wax candles. My very first Greek Easter was celebrated at the Monostary of St. John on Patmos, and included a visit to the cave where the Apostle John wrote The Revelations. For dinner that night, you eat magaritsa a traditional Easter soup made of the innards of sheep.

All the next day you'd hear the sound of whistling rockets, firecrackers and flares. Then at midnight everyone troops to the church again, this time carrying decorated candles. At midnight the church bells chime and the Pappas (priest) comes out to announce: "Christos Anesti" (Christ is Risen). From his altar candle, all the candles held by the participants are lit until the whole church square is glowing with candlelight. The children are given eggs dyed bright red and polished with oil and with these they play a game to see who can smash the other's egg. Everyone carries their lit candles home to scorch a cross on the door lintel for luck and blessings.

I loved the Greek Easter Sunday, the air pungent with the smell of lambs roasting on spits for the feasts that would follow. I miss those rituals now. At most I prepare a small family dinner and cook a lamb roast (Greek style). This Easter I hope to attend the community church with Anibal's daughters and later on go to my son's for dinner. There won't be the rituals and ceremony, but it still be a special occasion.

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