This coming weekend marks the culmination of Greek Easter and John and I still have very fond memories of the times we spent with our friends, the Papazopoulo family, in Thessaloniki.
I first met Stella-Marie Papazopoulo when I was studying at the University of Greenwich. During the summer break I worked in the Enquiries department of the University and part of my job was to reassure and answer any questions that prospective students and their families may have.
Over the years we became very close friends with Stella-Maria’s family. Her mother Aggeliki, her father Thomas and her brother Constantinos all visited us in London a couple of times. We were also fortunate enough to attend both Stella-Maria’s and Constantinos weddings in Thessaloniki.
Greek Easter is a wonderful event and I always remember Thomas teaching us how to play a game with red eggs called ‘tsougrisma’ (the translation of the name means clinking or clanking). The red eggs (kokkina avga) represent the blood and rebirth of Christ and the eggs are dyed by boiling them in onion skins. It is very similar to playing conkers and the aim of the game is to crack the opponents egg. For some reason Thomas always seemed to beat me.
On Holy Saturday Mama prepared ‘Mayritsa’, a traditional Greek soup made from lamb or kids offal that is eaten after midnight and signals the breaking of the fast.. Just before midnight the soup was left on a very low light and we made our way to church to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
The Greek orthodox church plays a significant role in the lead up to Easter and the holiday is more important than Christmas. When we arrived at the church it was full to overflowing and we had to listen to the service from outside the doors. After the service people left the church to the sound of church bells pealing and drums beating. Then there was a seemingly never ending procession of people with lighted candles making their way home. As they went they greeted each other with ‘Christos Aresti’ (Christ is risen) and the response came back ‘Alisthos Anesti’ (Truly, he is risen). I can’t begin to describe how moving this scene was. When we got home Mama made the sign of the cross on the front door with the blackened end of the candle.
We always had very happy times when we visited Thessaloniki and the hospitality we received was second to none. We became members of the Papazopoulo family. Mama’s sister and her husband Nico, we called her the ‘General’ because she had a very loud booming voice but a heart as big as her voice, took us eveywhere even to the Royal Tombs of Vergina in the foothills of Mount Pieria.
I will always remember the day we spent on the beach in Halkidiki. We went to a taverna for a late lunch in the afternoon and Thomas ordered food for all of us to share (9-10 people). The food arrived and was placed in the centre of the table. I helped myself to one chip and before I knew it all the food had disappeared. I didn’t get a thing. It doesn’t do to be a slow eater like me when in Greece.
Sadly, Nicos and Thomas are no longer with us but I am sure they are remembering the good times. In their memory I would like to bequeath this post to them.
Αναπαύσου εν ειρήνη
Here’s wishing all of the Papazopoulo family and everyone else