For the second year in a row, I’ve been disappointed by the fact that I’ve been unable to go to Exarchos and enjoy the experience of a village feast of barbecued lamb at the Church of Saints Taxiarches (Άγιοι Ταξιάρχε) for their annual lamb feast on the Tuesday following Easter. Last year, we were under Lockdown for Easter, and this year pretty much the same. This year however, we were “allowed” to do a little bit of traveling and families could get together in small gatherings to celebrate Easter.
It’s a very important holiday to Orthodox Greeks and there likely would have been a rebellion of some sort if the government had not eased restrictions in some way for Easter 2021.
The eased restrictions allowed us to travel to the Artemida Loutsa area where my companions sister and brother-in-law have a small “beach house.” It’s not on the beach, but about a 10 minute drive – although we did not go anywhere close to the water on this visit.
Fireworks & The Resurrection
Having grown up in a Protestant family, I’m not really aware of the traditions (as opposed to some doctrines) of the Roman Catholic church, let alone Greek Orthodox. But it seems that normally, on the Saturday night of the Easter weekend, as midnight passes, there is much singing at the churches and some in the crowds will throw fireworks and large “firecrackers” in order to make lots of noise. This is to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the clock passes the midnight hour and into Sunday.
This year however, the Orthodox Church agreed to celebrate at 9PM instead of midnight, in order to keep the 10:00pm curfew that was still in place. So while I did not get to Exarchos again this year, I did experience my first Easter celebration at an Orthodox church. It was quite a bit different than any Easter service that I had attended in Protestant churches – partly because there are no services (at the churches I attended) on Saturday, and generally the services are nothing like attending one at a Greek Orthodox.. There are the normal morning and evening services on Sunday, both which would have an Easter theme in preaching and teaching. The Protestant churches I attended seldom involved lighting candles, kissing icons, or standing around outside during the service.
We went to the Church of Agios Serafim located within Artemida and only a 5 minute drive from the house. It was extremely difficult to find parking and the crowds out in front all seemed pretty enthusiastic about celebrating the day, most people holding candles that they had lit from candles burning inside the church.
I couldn’t really make out what was going on during the service although priests were singing and chanting and every so often, a priest would make some remarks in Greek. And at about 9PM, many in the crowd through fireworks off to the side away from everyone. In the distance, I could see fireworks in the sky at other churches, at the same time.
We did not stay long at the church – perhaps 45 minutes maximum, while standing outside with the crowd – a mask wearing crowd, it was.
After church on Saturday night, the goal is to try to keep your candle lit along the journey home and take them inside when you arrive to bring in the “Holy light” into your house. I managed to keep mine lit with the 7 minute or so walk to the car, and as a passenger. Others who were not able to keep their lit simply relit them from the candles that were still with flame, and then took them in. They were all put into a large glass jar to burn.
I had no idea what events were planned for the rest of the evening and tried to just “go with the flow…” but when we got back to the house, a traditional dish of cooked greens and rice mixed with pieces of liver was served to us. Normally I can’t stand liver – although I wish I could as I know it is healthy to eat – but this dish was palatable to me. It was likely liver of goat or lamb.
I was told this is traditional in Greece on the Easter Saturday night. During the previous five days, often referred to as “The Big Week,” traditionally meat and dairy is forsaken. Having a small meal on Saturday night with a small amount of liver is supposed to prepare the stomach for the Sunday, when lots of meat is served!
Easter Sunday – Great Food, Music, And Dancing
I was not really given much details as how Easter Sunday would be celebrated – and was awoken about 8AM with people walking past the “bed” I was trying to sleep on. When I saw a whole butchered goat being carried outside while squinting my eyes, I thought I was seeing things. A few minutes later I decided to get up and check things out.
Indeed, a whole butchered goat had been carried out past me – and now it was on a large heavy duty spit skewer, being turned over coals in the barbecue. In the photo above, you should be able to see most of the details of a traditional Greek barbecue that many detached houses have somewhere on the plot the house is located on. They’re actually really handy for cooking very large pieces of meat – and racks can also be put over the coals for barbecuing sausages, or whatever else you want to cook.
The goat was hand turned for about 2 1/2 hours, perhaps 3, with family members taking turns as the goat meat cooked including children:
During this time, the music volume was turned up loud – traditional Greek music, and a couple of times when I walked my dog, I could hear similar music coming from other houses in the area.
I was told it was just not quite the same as a Village Easter celebration, but everyone seemed to be making the best of it, and having fun.
“Grandpa” loves to move his feet in a traditional Greek style dance, and his grandchildren were keen to help him out with that:
During a normal Easter at the village, dancing would take place out on the street in front of the village house, with neighbours joining in as well. Often copious amounts of wine, beer, and spirits might also be consumed.
Goat Meat Is Grand!
I’ve had goat in the past, but when I have, it’s been stewed. I’ve never had barbecued goat before – especially one that has been a whole butchered goat and slowly roasted for several hours.
When it was served, along with “kokoretsi,” (another barbecued traditional Greek food), liver, wild asparagus that had been picked the day before and other yummy things, I very much enjoyed the goat and found it had a mild taste. Big hunks of meat were sliced off along with bone, and that’s how it is served.
Greek Easter Is Very Much Family Time
The rest of Sunday was spent with the family sitting around, talking, laughing, and the adults having a few beverages including wine or beer. For me personally, I get tired of groups of people in small places – and I like to have my own time – no one seemed to mind and understood that I took the dog for a few walks – especially as my Greek is very poor and I could not communicate very much anyway.
But I did spend most of the time with the family and noted that it was very much like a Christmas Day in many respects back in North America. The kids all got gifts they loved – mostly clothing, there was lots of good cheer and happiness, and obviously the family members thoroughly enjoyed their time together.
The flowers were all out in bloom and it was nice to view them and hang out with my Boston Terrier who I had brought with me to Greece.
These snap dragons were nicely planted in a clay planter attached to the front of the house, and it was nice to see such blooms early in May:
A short walk away from the house, I discovered an olive grove that was almost carpeted with beautiful poppy blooms:
After a few glasses of wine and considering it was a rough night for sleep, a nap was in order in the late afternoon (another activity that you don’t have to worry about in Greece – afternoon naps are very common).
Then I drove back to Nea Ionia – traffic was heavy, but I’ve seen worse!
All in all, a pleasant Easter, but am still looking forward to the lamb feast in Exarchos! Hopefully next year that can happen.