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.


1 comment:

  1. Realized that I failed to even comment on this when I first read it....What a beautiful job you've done sharing the traditions of Georgia (and Poland) for the Easter holiday with all of us!

    Sometime, if you get to the wine-growing areas, would really enjoy hearing your impressions.


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