Yes, it may have the gifts and the longer holiday, but when it comes to the important stuff, like food, Easter, and its culinary delights, absolutely rule the year. Nowhere is this more true than Greek households the world over, and especially (because I’m not biased AT ALL) at Chez Kaponis.
(Those of you with first hand knowledge of what I’m talking are nodding your heads and salivating right now, aren’t you?)
From the youngest age, Easter for me was a time of both excitement and one long, loud groan, because as much as Easter spoilt me with delicious treats, it also made me work hard for them. Firstly, there was the issue that Easter itself was a moving target. It didn't occur at the same time as 'normal' Easter, save for every fourth year or so, and I found myself eating chocolate eggs either way before or way after my friends. (This, I realised much later, is because Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar for Easter festivities while the West use the Gregorian calendar. Facts!)
Secondly, the big one. Fasting. Our parents expected us to abstain from any meat or dairy products for two.whole.weeks. These weeks usually coincided with school holidays and were just the worst. Apparently you CAN get sick of hot chips which, in and of itself, was the biggest travesty of the whole fasting fiasco.
Around two or three days before Easter Sunday, things would start to look up. It would be time to crowd around the kitchen, three generations of the women in my family, and make hard-boiled red eggs and koulourakia, while my mother and grandmother bickered about the best way to make each treat. The bickering would turn into singing, which would turn into laughter, until the bickering started again. It was joyful.
And then arrived Good Friday. Cue groan. It was time to head to church and do, what I liked to call, the 'walk around the block'. There is, of course, a more religious term for what we did but that's not my bag so I'm sticking to my monicker. (Although if you'd like to learn more about the Orthodox side of things, let me introduce you to a guy who married a good Greek girl and knows all about it. Mr Tom Hanks.)
Friday's church visit was swiftly followed by Saturday morning's communion before the big one. Saturday's midnight mass. Seriously, for a family that's roughly 3/4 atheist, we see a LOT of church around Easter time. (Okay, less so now, but back in the ‘good old days’ it was full.on.)
So we’d stay up all Saturday, fall asleep around 11pm, then scramble to be at church by 11.55pm, thankful that the priest kept his own hours and just because the clocks said it was midnight, didn’t mean anything. He’d announce that ‘Christ had risen’ when he was good and ready.
Midnight mass would be followed by a weird 1am dinner, officially ending our fast (much to the confusion of my stomach) before we collapsed into the deepest of sleeps that were tinged around the edges with excitement because the next day was...
Easter Sunday! Finally!
The day would begin with Dad doing his lamb maths, picking the exact right time to start the spit before the hoards descended (happy to see us, but even happier to see the lamb). Mum would be in a flap, making sure the twelve hundred and five dishes she’d prepared would be enough (they never were, the woman makes the food of the gods), my sister would dutifully be helping, while I pretended to. (When we were older, we’d just be on hand to open the wine.)
The day was always perfect, the food demolished, the lamb a skeleton and the rest of us drunk and dancing to Greek music playing louder than anything the neighbours had ever heard, ever.
And even during those quieter years, when it was just our immediate family with lots of food, more arguments, and plenty of booze, Easter was still special. Family. Food. Love. Tradition.
|The lamb... after|
So what of Easter this year, away from home?
I thought about recreating my Greek traditions in the heart of Brexit, but knew it would be a fool’s errand. Instead, I decided to embrace the city for what it was. Easy to do when I have people on hand to help me create new traditions.
And so of course we ended up at a pub for a Sunday roast. And of course I didn’t get home until eight hours later and of course it ended with a shot of tequila.
Because while it’s necessary to have the memories of the past, it’s also necessary to create memories for the future. Just as long as there's good food, good people, good traditions and lots of love.
Still, I’m already dreaming of next year’s lamb on the spit...