11 April 2010

Holy Week: Easter

As this is the last day of Easter, I should post this final part in the series about Easter Week. We did not attend a vigil mass on Easter Eve the way that many Georgians do. Devout Georgians go to church in the evening for a long vigil which includes a litany of the saints. Around 11 pm we could hear bells at the churches around us ringing intermittently for this litany. At midnight, we heard a barrage of bells from all of the nearby churches, and could see processions of people walking around the major churches. It was a beautiful sound, hearing all the different church bells and faint sounds of singing far away.

We managed to get to sleep, and on Sunday morning awoke to celebrate both Easter and Nic's birthday. We went to church to find dozens of bouquets of flowers and a huge crowd of celebrating people looking their Easter best. Above is a picture of the alter at St.s Peter and Paul church on Easter Sunday. We bought some of our own lilies as you can see at the top of the blog. It was rather confusing, however, as we tried to buy 3 lilies which were wrapped up, we were quoted 10 lari. We asked instead the price of an individual flower: 2 lari. Needless to say we did not buy the wrapped flowers, but carried two large, individual, unwrapped lilies home. While we were going to church, many Georgians were just coming home from church with their Easter new fire.
I asked this couple for their picture in the metro. They have fashioned these devices to protect the fire so they can get it home. I saw huge numbers of Georgians in the metro with these same plastic beerbottle or waterbottle protectors. Georgians will often stay at church all night for the Easter Vigil and come home after the sun has risen. When they get home, they usually sleep for several hours. As a result, there is not always a large meal on Easter. Often just the eggs colored on Friday and Paskha.

Georgians have a special cake they only make for Easter called Paskha (the Russian word for Easter). From what I can tell, it is heavy on the butter and eggs with raisins and dried fruit, and difficult to make. I am told that to make it properly takes 12 hours, so people rarely make it themselves—they buy it from a store or special bakery but then they complain that not all the ingredients are used. Some people even sell it on the street out of the back of their cars (like almost anything you can buy on the street: whole chickens, fruit, cheese. This is common). As you can see, the cakes are light colored and rather tall.
During Easter week, I tried both homemade and store bought Paskha, and could appreciate that the homemade was a little better. It is a sweet, spiced cake but with no overwhelming flavors.

I was also pleased with the eggs, and found that although color choices are limited in Georgia, there are ways to "spice up" and decorate the eggs with these plastic pictures. Below you can see two that our landlady gave us. In the one on the right, you can see cartoon animals bringing paskha to each other. The one on the left is in Russian with a church. I also heard a new story about the eggs, but only from one source. A student told me that eggs are also related to as story of Thomas, the disciple. According to her, he made a comment of non-belief in Jesus' resurrection, and said something like "I'll believe when these eggs I have turn red." And then they did. I'm still a little shaky on the details.
Before you eat the eggs, the tradition is for two people to crack them, by hitting them one on top of the other. The one which does not crack is supposed to have good luck for a year. Especially children love this tradition, and will take eggs to school and compete with one another. When one of my students was younger, he remembers competitions at school, and the year when he had the luckiest egg. Another year, a boy brought an egg which seemed immortal--it could never be cracked! Then the owner dropped it on the ground...and it had a distinctly wooden sound. What a cheater!

Nic wanted eggs, but not paskha for his birthday picnic. We specially ordered a chocolate bundt cake (which I thought we had a picture of but I cannot find), I made chicken salad, and we took some wine and fruit to the botanic gardens, which were particularly quiet. With a couple other guys, we celebrated Nic's birthday in a beautiful setting with tasty food and cake.
We rested on Monday, a much needed day off, but Georgians were out at the cemeteries visiting their relatives who have passed on. This is the most important Easter tradition, portrayed in this picture by the famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (you can see the little ghosts flying with the birds). It is essential to visit graves because it is believed that spirits of lost relatives return to their grave on Easter. If you don't come to visit them, they will feel sad and unloved, especially seeing every other grave visited by family. The tradition is to bring little paskha cakes, red eggs and a candle to the grave. Family often makes a toast with wine to the lost member, and drinks only half the glass of wine. The rest of the glass is poured on the grave in a cross-shape for the spirit to drink. I have heard that the foods brought to the cemeteries are not only an offering to the dead, but to the poor as well. Supposedly, hungry people are allowed to eat the food left on the graves--the most important thing is that the dead relative was visited and loved.


05 April 2010

Holy Week: Good Friday (or "Red" Friday)

This is a the second post in a multi-part series on Easter traditions in Georgia.

During lent, devout Georgians fast much more American Christians. They give up all meat, dairy and oil dishes, leaving only a few options of fish, vegetables and some bread/ bean dishes. It seems rather extreme but everywhere you go you can find “fasting” alternatives: cookies, ice cream, sour cream, mayonnaise and yes...donuts. I don't fully understand how that works, but one of my teenage students told me that some less devout women use fasting as an excuse for extreme dieting, but with so many alternatives, they often gain instead of lose weight. Some priests are more strict than others in consulting parishioners on Lenten rules. Some pregnant women are allowed to have dairy products everyday except Wednesday and Friday, and some people with medical conditions are given special exemptions. Unfortunately, many Georgians don't really like vegetables or fish, and end up eating a lot of lobiani, beans with dough wrapped around it, or just a pot of beans (lobio). Although I have noticed a lot of more sickness in public (common colds and flu) during lent, no one seems to be starving themselves to the point of danger.

I don't have much information on Holy Thursday, except that it is called "Big Thursday" and most Georgians go to church, but devout Georgians go to church every day of Holy week anyway. I have also been told about a non-Christian tradition on Holy Wednesday. Children and young adults run through and jump over a bonfire in order to make bad things (spirits, illness, bad luck?) go away. Today it is more of just a fun tradition for kids than anything else.
On Good Friday (which Georgians call "Red Friday", there is an early morning church service for Mary, Jesus' mother, and another service in the afternoon. In addition to the services, people dye eggs red near dusk to symbolize when Jesus' blood was spilt. The egg dye comes from a plant which has a rich red color in the branches.
Georgians buy these branches, boil them and mush them up and then let them sit for 12-24 hours before boiling the eggs with it. It produces either a rich red or purple color on the egg, and I am told that the egg tastes different...we shall see.

My neighbor was kind enough to let me dye eggs with her after my mass on Good Friday. She did all the hard work crushing and boiling the branches, but let me join in for the fun part.
Once the dye was ready, we carefully placed the uncooked eggs into the pot and boiled them for a while--until we thought the egg was cooked and we liked the color.
We were able to put them directly into cold water to facilitate peeling without losing the color. Really quite easy, and produced a beautiful result.
The service I attended at the catholic church was a little different this year--it was in Russian and Georgian, because they did not have enough people for an English service that day. It was difficult to follow with my limited knowledge in both languages, so I read English versions of prayers and readings during most of the service. At one of the shrines, they put up a beautiful skrim with flowers and a crown of thorns attached to the fabric.

More to come soon about Easter...Sora

02 April 2010

Holy Week: Palm Sunday

I was talking with one of my students the other day about Easter, and she made the comment that one thinks of some traditions as universal until you are confronted with someone who does something different. This is common knowledge, but sometimes we still forget it when it comes to things like holidays which are shared among countries. My student is from Poland, and she thought that everyone celebrated Easter Monday by throwing water on each other. Let me specify: the tradition used to be that boys would throw a small amount of water (like a glass of water) on a girl if they liked them. It has turned into a slightly more dangerous event, and these days, people try to stay home on Easter Monday morning in order to avoid being doused with huge buckets of water by “hooligans.” I have never heard of this before, but my student grew up thinking everyone did this on the day after Easter.

So, I have been investigating some of the differences between my own Easter and Holy Week traditions and Georgian traditions. This year is uncommon with Orthodox and Catholic/ Protestant Easter falling on the same day. Usually, due to different calendars, they are on different weeks.
As luck would have it, when I was celebrating Palm Sunday last week, so was Georgia. Georgians follow a similar tradition of having foliage blessed by a priest on this day, but instead of palms, they use boxwood and pussywillow branches (at the Catholic church we attended, they used olive branches), even though there are palm trees all over the country. A Georgian told me that they believe that Jesus was greeted by palm branches according to their bible, but yet boxwood has become the tradition.
As a way to display the branches, they are often sold in little baskets which make it easy to put the branches on a table in your home and dry for the whole year.
It was beautiful to walk around all day and see people selling branches and baskets (very inexpensively) and see others carrying huge bundles around.
My polish student also told me about the palms they use on Palm Sunday in Poland. Highly artistic, they are supposed to be saved for one year and discarded, but as you can see, they are so nice many people keep them for several years. There are palms involved in the construction but clearly other materials as well.

These last two are not my pictures, but give you the idea of how different traditions can be.

More to come soon...Sora