12:01am- Easter Sunday, Olympia, Greece If Jesus was not already supposed to have been risen, he surely would have been awakened by the display the Greeks put on for him at Easter time. Easter in Greece is THE holiday. The entire town is present and circled around the only church. The streets are filled with the flickering flames in the hands of every man, woman, and child. The sky is lit up in a colorful display of pyrotechnics. Everyone is here, everyone has their candle, and everyone is eagerly awaiting the hours to come.
The previous two hours of fireworks is capped off by the Grand Finale of fireworks, the incessant ringing of bells, and the enchanting chants from the priest which are piped over loudspeakers that reach the very outskirts of town. The people in the streets are singing and every light in town is turned off- the only light apart from the candle flames is the light emanating from within the church. You forget that your body is numb from the cold, and every sense you have is mezmerised by the production in front of you… then, 3 hours later, as suddenly as it began, the service is over and everyone disperses to their family homes.
Now comes the part everyone is REALLY waiting for- dinner. For two weeks before Easter there is no meat or animal (that has blood) byproduct eaten. No milk, no cheese, no butter, no meat, no LAMB, no eggs. This is hard, especially for the Greeks! At 1am Sunday morning, it is time to rejoice in their carnivorous delights once again. The table is set with tzatsiki, cheese, horiatiki, wine, bread, olives- and that’s just the place setting! Then comes the first course: a “Butcher Stew” of sorts- Magiritsa. Swampy green with stringy leafy vegetables is the chosen soup of the meal. Liver, bones, neck, and intestines of the lamb are the REAL stars of the show, however.
Mind you, I informed my hostess earlier in the day that I was a vegetarian, but she assured my there was no “meat” in this dish.
Sitting with a Greek family in their home on their most sacred and revered holiday of the year is a pleasure few foreigners are able to partake in- so Brandy the vegetarian became Brandy the willing carnivore. Now, I wont lie- there was no way I was sucking the marrow from the bones that were in the soup, but some definitely plopped into my bowl as I passed the bones off to the VERY grateful octogenarian aunt to my right. Oh well- more *flavor*.
I wish I had taken my own photo of this soup for you, but the Greek spirit is one where you are enjoying yourself in the moment, not worrying about anything else. I gladly put aside every other thought and simply enjoyed every meat filled minute of the evening- until I realized this Hellenic Cinderella had forgotten to stage my own entrance to the hostel, and it was well past my 10pm curfew! I excused myself between course 1 and 2 to run to the Hostel and do this. Bah! I was actually locked out- even from my own room- Malakas! Oh well, I have more important things to worry about, like course two- lamb!
Lamb & Potatoes are course 2 in this traditional fast breaking meal. Next, come eggs! All the eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of risen Christ, and the family cracks each others eggs in a circle wishing “Hronia Pola” (literally many good years to you). Now that the egg is cracked, we must eat this too! You easily eat one kilo in this 3 hour meal. Now that your body is aching from all the food it is time to drink more wine and chat. Chatting in Greek families more sounds like a battle of epic proportions- and sometimes you’re sure it’s going to come to blows, when in reality they are just catching up…
Now it’s time for dessert! Baklava, Koulourakia, “Milk Bites”, Halvas… BAH! After a few of these I could no longer be polite- I was in physical pain from so much food. After a month of eating one meal a day, this meal dropped a bomb on me. I had to refuse the next round of desserts and cheeses that came out, for fear my eyeballs would literally fall out of my skull due to lack of room. Finishing at 3:30 am, everyone kissed goodnight and rushed to their respective villages & hotels. Since I was totally locked out of my hostel, Panagos gave me a room he had open due to a last minute cancellation. Wow. What more could he offer me? I am in amazement of the level of hospitality I am receiving.
After 4 hours of sleep everyone is up and it’s time for breakfast. Ack- more food! “Mono Cafe” (only coffee) is not an acceptable breakfast request. You must have yogurt & honey, koulouraki, eggs, cheese, cake, orange juice, AND cornflakes with milk. Please, no. I am swimming in food & hospitality. Thrilled. Even more than my stomach or coffee cup my heart is full and warm. People I have known a total of two weeks are as kind and welcoming as friends of decades.
“and this old world, is a new world for me… and I’m feelin’ good”