Friday, April 24, 2009

Greek Easter: Itsy Bitsy Fireworks

The most exciting of all the Greek Easter celebrations comes on Saturday evening. In the States, people tend to do a Sunday morning mass to employ the symbolic effect of the rising sun. Here, however, there's a midnight mass like you would expect at Christmas. Even though it happens in the dark, it is primarily concerned with 'light.'

A group of Greek and Orthodox leaders fly to Jerusalem and procure some of the holy fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They return to Greece where the flame is received at the airport with all the honors of a foreign dignitary (much like the Olympic torch). Then the flame is dispersed all over Greece and the priests take a part of it to their own churches. At midnight on Saturday, Greeks crowd into their churches and light their own candles and tapers off of that brought by the priest.

When the clock strikes 12, people also start shooting off fireworks in a very New Year's Eve manner, with each little neighborhood having its own display. Then everyone must get their candle home without it blowing out, make the shape of the cross over their door, and then try to keep their flame alive for as many days and weeks as possible. I guess this is the only night in Greece when it is perfectly okay to get into taxi's with an open flame
There's a whole lot that could be said about this fascinating ritual from a religious study's perspective, but I think I'll save that for another day. My way of partaking in the ceremony was to climb up Lykabittos Hill to the highest point in Athens, where tons of people were smooshed onto the landings, trying to get their candles lit. Looking down on Athens in the dark, with fireworks exploding far below and in all directions, was quite a site.

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