I always got unrepairably depressed at Easter. And the thing about Greek Easter is that it lasts forever. Greek Easter is not just a day and it is not nearly the fun egg hunting activity that cumulates Easter here in the U.S. The greater Easter period starts on Kathari Deftera (Ash Monday). The day on which the fun officially dies in action. Kathari Deftera sounds pleasantly and inconspicuously fun when described, its typical activities involving eating, flying a kite and goodbye-ing “Apokries”.
I bet you are thinking goodbye-ing “Apokries” sounds fun. Think again. You are a kid and dressing up in your new Spiderman uniform is the best thing on earth. And right when you started attending the greatest costume parties and learned how the effectively through those devilish streamers (serpantines), you are informed that this weekend is the last one and here come 40 days of strict fasting.
Kathara Deftera weather is typically the worst kind of weather. It’s not hot and it’s not cold. You are constantly either dressed too warmly or feeling cold. When you are about to attempt flying your kite it’s not windy emough. When you are trying to get out of the dreaded fish tavern where you can not find anything remotely edible, it’s too windy to go out. Having gotten up at 6 AM to get the warm lagana bread starts taking a toll on you around 2pm but you need to be present in the family lunch where the family keeps reminding each other how Christ suffered and how Easter is meant to impose this state of suffering on everyone for the following 40 days until the great Anastasy (Resurrection Day) arrives.
If you think that is gloomy, wait until we hit Holy Week. Every day at church is a re-enactment of Christ’s martyrous life. Complete with placing Christ on the cross, ceremonuiously getting Him down, preparing the coffin, setting it up with flowers and having kids walk under it. If that still hasn’t depressed you, remember television constantly plays all versions of tv series ever made on the Passion of Christ and restaurants feature menus of Fasting Food that is getting increasingly hard to categorise as food. And right when you thought you had enough, comes Good Friday. Good Friday is there to finish everyone off, including the ones who managed to ignore the general feeling of distress and depression that has been in effect during the last 40 days.
There is a reason Good Friday is called the saddest day of the year as well as the day of the dead. If you think that alone is gloomy wait until you visit the cemetary, clean the family grave, schedule and go through a rememberance service (Mnimosino) and then follow two to five+ coffins around two to five city squares, three times each, dressed in austere black attire, holding lit yellow candles, your eyes locked to the ground. The think is you are not faking it. At this point you are trully and honestly depressed.
Solely for the purpose of calling a spade a spade, Easter is not a holiday. NOT a holiday! Not in the least so. What is it that defines a holiday after all? Getting time off, having fun…wait right there! Even if Easter Day on its own is fun, having been the product of a terribly long and beyond belief depressing 40 days, how much of holiday can that possibly make?
Yes, it is true. Easter in Greece lasts a full week. Yet the “celebrations” taking place during that week are not celebrations at all. Even in Greece. Easter week, or Labrobvomada is the week it takes to get back to being your normal non-depressed self. That being the person you were before Ash Monday hit you. I know what you are about to say. Yep, I know, that is the true meaning of Easter. The true sanctity of Holy Easter comes alive. I do agree. Indeed. Yet, quit calling it a holiday and admit the obvious: in order to be able to trully enjoy Easter you need to possess the fleeting skill of being able to find pleasure in pain. Or be convinced that pain is pleasure. Your call. Either way, pain is an integral part of it all. And that is what makes Greek Easter diametrically opposed to the general feeling of euphoria Americans expect a holiday to bring.
“How are you celebrating Easter?”, non-Orthodox friends here in the U.S. keep asking me. It has been quite a challenge, remaining polite and giving an honest answer. I am not saying I do not get any celebratory feelings whatsoever. I do. And lamb is great. Tsoureki too. It’s just too much pain and suffering and too little actual celebratory spirit. And in the U.S. Labrovdomada isn’t even a holiday. So don’t blame me when inclined to ignore large chunks of depressing pre-Easter ceremonies. It is simply too much!