from Nike in Katerini, Greece: Good Friday, rituals, processions and mayeritsa …

It’s Good Friday today. Good Friday is the day of mourning for Jesus. Jesus was actually crucified on a Thursday. It’s called Red Thursday and it’s the day we dye eggs red. When out shopping for food every woman I met on the street including myself has red tinged fingers from dyeing and polishing eggs. Last night the TV stations were screening all the famous religious epics. Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments, and many more. Nobody says Happy Easter here in Greece. We say Good Easter but rarely. Mostly we say, Good Resurrection.

Every Good Friday night all Greeks take to the streets and follow the procession of the Epitaphios, the funeral bier, of Jesus. Not this Good Friday of course. The government seems to have understood how important it is to have these rituals and they have said we are allowed to go onto the street and witness the processions, for all churches have their own. Not participate as usual while we carry candles representing light and stop at the stations of the cross. No. Just witness the procession from afar. I’d like to see the government try and stop the Ultra-faithful, which is half of Greece, from joining in. It would be wonderful if they did – and all maintained physical distance. What a sight that would be. The discipline of modern disciples.

In the meantime, more food has to be prepared. I’m caring for three elderly people. My parents and my aunt, my mother’s sister who lives on the fifth floor of our apartment building. She’s only 80. Don’t chuckle, that’s youthful nowadays, but she loves having someone to run her errands and cook her meals while she and her sister spend their days gossiping over coffees, watching the televised church services and torturing me with requests and demands.

They have all asked for me to make the traditional mayeritsa for the Saturday midnight meal after the service of the Resurrection that breaks the fast of Lent. Mayeritsa is a gruesome looking stew made from the offal of the Paschal lamb. I loathe it but I make it purely out of tradition and so does everybody else judging by the fragrance in the air. The heavy gamey flavours of the offal are offset by the rich abundance of herbs. The entire neighbourhood is perfumed with the refreshing scent of dill and mint. It’s a comforting little sense of unity.

For two days in a row my kitchen looks like a crime scene. Red dye has splashed onto the tiles behind the cooktop. I have hearts, lungs and liver spread out on my counter top ready for blanching and chopping before being submerged into the sea of simmering alliums and herbs. My aunt walks in and tells me there’s been an announcement from Mount Athos that all the monks of the monasteries are praying in unison for this wretched virus to leave Greece quickly and that for their prayers to reach us we must place a crucifix on our front door for their prayers to find their targets. There are crucifixes in our house galore, my mother has seen to that, but I don’t have a little one to hang on the door handle. The monks have thought of everything. They say those who don’t have a small cross to hang are to simply dip a corner of cloth or their fingers into the oil of our lamps in our shrines and anoint our doors with the shape of a crucifix three times for the Holy Trinity. Before I go to sleep I remember and dip my fingers into the oil of the lamp in our shrine and trace a crucifix on our front door, thrice.

I feel a little bit like Voltaire must’ve felt when he announced if God didn’t exist it would be necessary to invent him. The rituals have brought me peace. It’s a comforting sense of continuity in a time where we don’t know what’s going to happen next. It’s so quiet there’s a disquiet. The rituals provide security in a time there is none.

from Eileen P. in Murcia, Spain: No Semana Santo this year

April 9, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the most important holiday in Spain. Despite Spain becoming more and more secular they still maintain their religious traditions. Most of Spain closes down for the week and all cities organise processions every night. The most famous processions are in Cartagena, Seville, Malaga and Salamanca. Brotherhoods are formed to prepare all year for the occasion.

Processions can last 3 hours and huge edifices are carried through the streets with bands and 100´s of penitents walking in between them. The penitents wear robes coloured in accordance to their brotherhood, purple, brown, black, white, green, with large Ku Klux Clan type headgear disguising their faces. The edifices can weigh up to 1400 kilos with 140 men carrying it on their shoulders with generators often trailing to provide the necessary lighting.

Each night has a theme according to the Easter story, Good Friday being the most solemn, with no bands only a sombre drum playing. Crowds line the procession route with restaurants renting tables and chairs and the City Hall lining the later part of the route with seats which can be rented, as it goes well on into the night.

Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the week with a joyous theme parading during the day.