Easter in Tolo
Easter is one of the nicest periods to be in Tolo for a couple of reasons. First of all even if you are not a devout Christian you can’t help but be moved by the ceremonies and the way life begins again on Easter Sunday after winter and 40 days of fasting. If you go to the countryside or to the islands wildflowers are in bloom and the hillsides that are usually parched brown in the summer are green from the winter rains. You can’t even imagine the fields of flowers and the way life seems to be popping and sprouting up from every crack and crevice.
The week of Easter begins on Palm Sunday and there are church services everyday commemorating the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. The evening services are the most well attended of course, except for Wednesday when the Service of the Holy Unction is held in the afternoon. On Thursday morning the service commemorates the Last Supper and the Betrayal of Christ. This is the day that the hard-boiled eggs are dyed red, signifying the blood of Christ, and the Easter bread, called tsoureki, is baked. The evening service is a long one and features twelve gospel readings. It is in this service that a two-dimensional figure of Christ on the cross is brought into the church and set up, while the church bells ring. In some places a vigil is kept in the church all night.
From the point-of-view of a spectator from Friday it starts to get very interesting. The nails holding the figure of Christ are knocked off and the figure is taken down from the cross and wrapped in a white cloth. A large piece of cloth, embroidered with the image of Christ, called the epitaphios which has been decorated with flowers by the girls through the night, is brought into the church where it is sprinkled with rose-water and more flower petals are thrown upon it. The bells of the church begin to toll and all the flags in Greece are lowered to half-mast in while women in the congregation weep in mourning for the dead Jesus. In the evening a funeral service is held and at about 9pm the epitaphios is taken from the church and with the bells tolling mournfully, is carried through the streets in a solemn procession.
At 11pm on Saturday night pretty much the entire village is in church. The lights are turned off at midnight and the priest announces that Christ has arisen from the dead as candles are lit from his and then from each other. The tiny glow at the front of the church grows and soon the whole room is illuminated by the light of everyone’s candles. At the stroke of midnight the priest intones the paschal hymn “Christ has risen from the dead and in so doing has trampled on death and to those in the tombs he has given life“. The church bells ring in celebration, fireworks go off, ships sound their sirens. People greet each other happily with the words Christos Anesti (Christ has arisen) which is replied to with Alithos Anesti (Truly He has arisen). Then everyone heads for home with their lighted candles where they trace the cross three times above the door and to bless trees and farm animals. Most people either stay home or go to a restaurant for the traditional bowl of mageritsa, a thick green soup made from the intestines of the lamb that will be roasted the next day, breaking their 40 day fast which began with the end of Apokreas. Easter day is most people’s favorite day of the year. A lamb is roasted and friends and families get together to eat, drink, talk and dance.