The Greeks take Easter seriously. Fasting, fireworks, processions, red egg battles, seemingly endless religious services and, of course, delicious food. I was staying with my mom’s friend Antonis and his little Jack Russell Emily for my three days in Athens. It was a very active three days full of Easter ceremonies, food, ancient archeological sites, food, churches, food, and new friends.
The Friday I got to Athens Antonis said we would go out to the church for the procession around the church where the epitaph of Jesus was carried with people following carrying lit candles. We met three of his friends near the church and headed up to the church where I caught my first glimpse of the Acropolis lit up in the night sky overlooking all of Athens. The streets were bustling with people and merchants were left and right selling candles and other trinkets. When we got to the church it was packed so we stood outside until the procession came out (which it did a good amount later than expected…) then after following it for about 20 yards we headed to the car and found an amazing place for dinner. The meal lasted long into the night and we didn’t leave until after midnight. Yes, this is a different culture for sure.
For Easter on Saturday it is custom to go to church at midnight to celebrate the first moments of Easter day. We went out to another friend of Antonis’ apartment where they had a huge meal ready for us. But not until after midnight were we allowed to eat. So, about ten minutes before midnight we walked over to the church that was a few minutes walk away, got candles, had them light from the flame that was brought straight from Jerusalem and then at midnight watched the spectacular display of fireworks before quickly retreating back to the apartment for the breaking of the fast that I don’t think any of us had participated in. During, and a long time after we ate, the sounds of chanting coming from loudspeakers on the church filled the air. It might have still been going when we left around 3am…
Sunday’s Easter celebrations didn’t involve any church, but instead a wonderful meal at a restaurant situated outside of Athens high up on a mountain with lots of lamb. Again, we were with a large group of Antonis’ friends and had a good time eating some traditional Greek dishes.
One unfortunate circumstance in Greece is the amount of smoking going on everywhere. Antonis and many of his friends smoked a lot, which left his one friend and me that didn’t smoke feeling like we did. If you’re thinking smoking should be banned in restaurants, well you’re right and it actually is. However, true to Greek culture, just because something is supposed to happen doesn’t mean it actually will. Too many Greeks smoke and any police officer thinking it would be a good idea to enforce this particular law would be out of his mind and highly outnumbered. So, similar to the laws in Amsterdam making marijuana illegal, the laws against smoking in restaurants in Greece are ignored.
This summary doesn’t nearly do justice to my Greek Easter but I think at least gives a decent idea of what goes on. Normally, Greek Orthodox services are painstakingly long, and that was of course true in Athens as well. However, because of the group I was with, I luckily got to sit the boring parts out while catching all the good stuff. I grew up Greek Orthodox and one thing, among others, that may have turned me off going to church were all the chants in a language I didn’t understand. After talking with some of the guys I spent this Greek Easter with, I realized that no one really knows what they are saying. Apparently the chanting is in Ancient Greek and everyone sort of just powers through it with faith intact… more power to them.
I made it to the Acropolis on Saturday. It was a perfect Greek day. Sunny, hot and a bright blue sky above. Luckily admission to the Acropolis was free on this particular day because it was Easter weekend. So I took my camera up and marveled at the wondrous Parthenon and other buildings left atop of the high Acropolis. It really is a beautiful must see sight. I have found myself very attracted to ancient mega ruins on this trip and the Parthenon didn’t disappoint. They are slowly trying to restore the Parthenon so there were cranes all around it, but as I listened to a free walking tour of the Acropolis on my headphones, I was happy to learn a lot about the buildings. I won’t give a huge recount of the history of the Acropolis and Parthenon here, there are much better places you can go to get that, but let me just say that we can thank the Turks and Venetians for most of its current state of ruin and if you’d like to see an exact replica of it you can go to none other than…. Nashville, Tennessee to see it. Go figure.
I can’t start to explain how good all the food was. Instead, let me just list some of the things I vividly remember eating: The best French fries I’ve ever had (it had something to do with the seasoning), octopus, squid a few different ways, beans, all sorts of variations of Greek salads with feta, schnitzel (made by one of Antonis’ Swiss friends), Jesus Fish soup (a fish that had supposedly been touched by Jesus in its past therefore explaining the large circular mark on its side), souvlaki (made by Antonis and delicious), marinated chicken breast (also made by Antonis), lamb chops, and many other dishes I’m forgetting that were also absolutely delightful. If you want to eat well, go to Greece.