Senior Tutor, Matthew Uffindell, interviews the diverse staff at Greene’s to discover how Easter is celebrated in Poland, Norway, Italy, Spain, and the United States.
Ask Greene’s staff about their images of the traditional Easter, and the answers are fascinating and varied. They illustrate just how diverse we are behind those cultured English and American accents!
To my question about what constitutes a typical Easter, our Polish Bursar, Ilona, says simply, ‘Eggs, eggs, eggs.’ This reflects the long Eastern European tradition of egg decoration, egg giving and egg blessing. On Easter Saturday a basket of eggs is taken to the Church, Holy Water is sprinkled on it and the basket is taken home for Sunday. On Easter Day an egg is then taken from the basket and shared with family.
My own Norwegian friends relish these Easter days, with winter memoires fading and the celebrations of the National Day close at hand. There is egg decorating, cross-country skiing and spending the evenings and nights in isolated wooden cabins. For me, my Norwegian ancestors far in the distant past, we put out hot cross buns and milk in a saucer overnight to feed the shadowy Easter Bunny that visits the house unseen, leaving a basket of chocolate eggs, perhaps accompanied by a large egg with a clutch of little, coloured sugar-coated eggs in their own chocolate nest. Of course the bun and milk mysteriously disappear, leaving behind traces of spilt milk, crumbs and a trail of garden dirt.
According to Carla, our American Business Manager, whose roots lie in Armenian traditions, eggs at Easter time are hard-boiled with onion skins. This turns the shells a beautiful, rust-coloured red, so the finished egg represents a blood-red tear drop of the crucified Christ. Then comes the egg-breaking competition, mixing the religious and the secular, the spiritual and the mundane. It’s a simple ritual in which two people each hold an egg and take turns to hit the end of the other’s egg with the end of their own egg. However many eggs are hit, one always come through undamaged to win the day.
Our Director of Studies, Carmen Prozillo comes from a mixed Italian and Welsh background, but the Italian love of food seems to predominate. As she says, ‘in Italy there is the usual 50-course meal!’ Apparently ‘the Italians have no passion for eggs’ although there is La Colomba Pasquale (the Easter Dove) a delicious cake, reminiscent of panettone (made with flour, eggs, sugar, natural yeast and butter). Unlike panettone, it also usually contains candied peel. The dough is then shaped to resemble a dove (although more usually it looks more like a star-fish), and topped with pearl sugar and almonds before being baked. There is of course a version topped with the ubiquitous Easter confection – chocolate. Try the recipe: http://www.crossingitaly.net/travel/318/colomba-pasquale-the-recipe-of-the-italian-doveshaped-easter-cake
Our Spanish Physics tutor, Carmen Marin-Ruano, concentrates on the complex religious aspects of the festival – and the pasos, litter-type floats that form a procession (romeria) involving all the local churches in the city, town or village. Romerias begin on Palm Sunday, the first Sunday of the Holy Week and create a series of moving pictures, winding their way through the narrow streets. The sculptured tableau on each paso show the figures of the Virgin and Christ, representing different moments in the passion of Christ, culminating in the crucifixion.
Carmen emphasises the tremendous effort required to carry these heavy wooden platforms through the cramped, crowed streets. Traditionally the men and women (called costaleros) who bear these floats remain concealed under cloths that drape the litters, so the wooden stages themselves seem to hover and glide over the streets.
Add to this the weight, the darkness under the shrouds, the heat and the twisting lanes, and it is heroic that the costaleros, with heads bowed and shoulders aching, are bent double for 8 hours at a time. Where the streets are particularly narrow or restricted so the tableaux can not be carried at shoulder-height, the costaleros have to crawl. In further imitation of Christ’s journey, many of the costaleros also walk bare-footed, and take no food. Accompanying this penitential procession over the seven days of Holy Week are the robed and hooded nazarenos, also often barefooted and even wearing chains. The final tableau, representing the crucifixion, is viewed in silence with one exception: a man or woman sings the saeta, a song of devotion.
For many of us, Easter is only a matter of gorging chocolate eggs and chocolate bunnies. Having listened to just a few people talk so enthusiastically about their own Easter traditions, there seem to be as many stories of Easter as there are people to tell them.