Proud Greek flags are flying at half mast. I wonder who died and then I remember…Jesus died, it’s Good Friday. We’re busy in Greece making TV shows and I’m tossed two big curves: Orthodox Easter and bad weather. It’s cold and wet. There’s snow on the mountain tops on the south coast of Greece…not the image I expected.
People can’t understand how we could be working this weekend. “It’s Easter; absolute family time.” I try to explain that I celebrated Easter a month ago. When we film a meal, the restaurant is dotted with dark red hard-boiled eggs. Suddenly everyone is cracking their egg on their neighbors — like splitting a wishbone, only one egg gets cracked and you hope it’s not yours.
Four out of every ten Greeks live in Athens and, heading south on the freeway, it felt like they were all heading out of town the same time we were. TV crews were at the freeway tollbooths catching the pandemonium. Saturday night at 11, everyone’s out for the big Mass and then it’s firecrackers and partying into the wee hours.
Sunday the churches are empty: people sleep till noon, then it’s goat-on-a-spit time for the big family lunch. Rather than a big fat Greek wedding, we get a big fat Greek Easter family party. In the villages, it seems no one’s on the streets. Everyone’s inside enjoying traditional folk music and dance — vicariously — by watching the same TV broadcast.
In an extremely remote village on the south coast of the Peloponnese, we find a priest who lets us film the Greek Orthodox worship service. (I wanted to show and explain the differences for people not accustomed to it.) When we asked if we could observe his Mass and film him, he was as giddy as the man at the gate in Oz who said, “That’s a horse of a different color…come on in.”
The priest pulled the rope to ring the bell to call villagers to worship. He kept pulling. No one came. I lit some candles and ran to the bar and coaxed three people into the church, so he wouldn’t be saying Mass in darkness to no one. The priest welcomed our cameraman behind the iconostasis (where the religious heavy lifting goes on). He sang, chanted, swung the incense, and shared with us the glory of his religious tradition…as my three forced worshippers stood by, respectfully crossing themselves vigorously at the right moments. It’ll make a great bit on our show.
Driving out of the village the day after Easter, I thought there’ll be lots of leftover goat sandwiches today.