Three mysteries for Greek Easter

Red egg

This week I’ll be dyeing my eggs red, planning Sunday’s big dinner and shopping for lamb. The question occupying my mind is this: given the quantity of food I’ll be preparing, do we also need a pastitsio, with its heavy béchamel sauce and pasta?

I guess I already know the answer to that.

The goat

For weeks, I had been following the she-goat’s pregnancy with interest, as its round belly grew to resemble pieces of luggage. A lumpy day bag, at first, then a sack of odds and ends, and finally a duffel that nearly scraped the stony ground.

A cold February day with low clouds threatening rain, as I hurried home from school.

My aunt saw me from the kitchen window and came out to meet me. “She’s giving birth,” my aunt whispered. “Go have a look.”

To keep the she-goat warm, my aunt had put her in the greenhouse — a rickety structure of wood and plastic sheeting where they protected the tomato seedlings from frost.

And there she was as I entered, literally spilling her guts. The kid, really just a folded parcel of hair and bones soaked in blood, was trembling with electric speed. Its mother gazed at me with the goaty yellow eyes of ancient wisdom and plain stupidity.

I immediately had to leave, as you would leave a scene of violence. But after I caught my breath in the house, I returned twenty minutes later and the kid was already standing on rickety legs and taking its first step. It felt like a resurrection.

Some weeks on, several more kids, from other she-goats, were skipping around the yard and getting in my aunt’s way.

I never figured out how they did it, but at midday I’d often find the kids high up in the olive trees at the back of my aunt’s house. How they managed to climb the trees is beyond me. But there they’d be, perched in the tall branches and bleating joyfully at the sky, as their mothers watched and chewed, far below.

The uncle

My uncle drove a grocery store delivery van, and I’d join him on busy days, humping boxes up steep staircases throughout Park Ex. Gallon tins of olive oil, haunches of meat and wedges of cheese balanced on one shoulder, in preparation for Easter.

He was in a foul mood. The weather — “that whore!” — probably had something to do with it. Overnight, it had turned Canada-cold again and dumped more snow on the ground, threatening the weekend festivities. He loved the good life and hated to work, like a few Greeks. But above all, he hated being told what to do and when to do it, like most of his countrymen.

Our windows were rolled up against the weather, but he was doggedly working his way through a pack of king-size Rothmans. Every time he finished another one, he flicked the butt into the slushy floorboards. He’d been doing this for days and the floor was now littered with butts.

I’d heard the boss, fed up with the state of his van, tell my uncle to stop doing this.

“Why don’t you use the ashtray?” I asked, between deliveries. “You heard the boss.”

“Why? Because I like hearing the ‘tssss’ when my cigarette hits the snow. That’s why.”

The church

Greek Orthodox Easter, rich in ancient rites and mysteries, is the most important holiday on the calendar, and it lasts for days.

Days of clanging church bells, tinkling censers, clouds of aromatic smoke, golden vestments and ranks of candles. Days of the psalti chanting the old, halfway familiar words, and serene-looking saints on every side, jealous for your kiss. Days of the close-packed smell and heat of humanity, rising and sitting as one. The flowers, the praying, the sorrow, the people spilling out onto the street because the church cannot hold them. Then, the midnight announcement — he is risen — and the candles passed from congregant to congregant, and the trembling flame that needs shelter until it’s brought home and held high to mark a sooty cross above the threshold.

I no longer follow these rites, nor do I attend church. I have Netflix.

But even though I am fallen and far from the church, I still stubbornly dye my eggs, roast my lamb and bake my koulourakia, although I’m not sure why.

I think about that kid I saw tumbling out of its mother, barely alive, a flickering flame gaining strength by the minute. I think about my uncle and his stubborn refusal to bend to another’s will, and about my own mulish Greek ways. I think, too, about life’s boundless love and cruelty, of grief and a kind of resurrection.

All these things are mysteries enough to ponder during Easter, as I sprinkle sesame seeds on my koulourakia before sliding them into the oven.

As you’ve guessed by now, one of the kids perched in the olive tree in back of my aunt’s house became our Easter Sunday meal, all those years ago. We cracked eggs, said Christos Anesti, and ate and ate until we were bursting.

Egg basket

15 thoughts on “Three mysteries for Greek Easter”

  1. I don’t think this was your intended reaction but I salivated through this whole piece. Happy Easter, Spyro and enjoy the lamb.

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  2. You write soooo well. Pieces like these should be in journal, maye The New Quarterly, Malahat review, The New Yorker…I love teh red eggs! What follows us from childhood, why those things keep us attached to moments of pure excitement and pleasure!

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  3. Spyro, what a wonderful story/memory 🙂 it truly is amazing what we carry from our childhoods to our adult lives 🙂 so…which uncle were you remembering? 🙂

    Enjoy your koulourakia and lamb. I will be enjoying ours as well. Καλή Αηαστάση 🙂

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  4. Wonderfully evocative! As I’m sure you know, Easter celebrations — Greek or otherwise — has deep roots in the human experience that pre-date Christianity. I remember a particularly excellent Easter service at the Unitarian church on the theme of renewal and possibility. When I said to the minister how much I had enjoyed it, Rev. Drennan replied, “I’ve always felt that the christians hijacked Easter.”

    Have a happy feast. Enjoy the culinary rituals and whatever meaning you want to attach to them.

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