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


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