Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Holy Days

Here is another great blogging/journaling prompt from Miriam over at AnceStories 2!

How did your family traditionally celebrate its holy day? Did you attend worship services? Which kind (Good Friday service, Sunrise service, etc.) did you traditionally attend? Did you family approach this holy day with a lot of reverence, or was it secularized?

Our celebrations of Easter were a mix of reverent and secular. Being raised as a Roman Catholic, there was no service on Good Friday, but we had the opportunity to attend the Stations of the Cross at 3pm that afternoon. There were no bells to be rung between the end of the mass on Holy Thursday until the end of Easter Vigil on Saturday/Sunday, usually about 1am.

At our church, the altar guild ladies would clear the altar of all items after the Holy Thursday service and place a single red rose on it. The church would hold no baptisms or funerals during all of Holy Week.

There was no school on Good Friday and there was very little activity especially between the hours of 12pm and 3pm. We could not listen to music, we could not watch television or even go out and play. Basically we sat and read and stayed quiet.

After 3pm there was no going out for a dance or movies or having people over. We were allowed to watch television but not something like a comedy. Usually we could find some station showing The Ten Commandments or The King of Kings (the 1927 silent version or the updated 1961 version). I remember that in New York on WABC, the 4:30 Movie would show all Holy Week related movies such Barabbas, or The Robe.

What foods did your family eat during the meals celebrating your holy day? What special preparations were involved? As a child, did you help prepare any of the meals or dishes?

We had the ubiquitous ham which I always and still equate more with New Year's Day than Easter. Even today, my mother-in-law insists on ham at every holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter etc.). Our current celebration, which is on April 27th being the Orthodox Easter, will include ham but I will also make my famous Marinated Boneless Leg of Lamb out on the grill. It takes only about 20 minutes per side for a five pound leg and even those who swear they don't like lamb seem to gobble it up.

Did you receive or give any gifts or treats as part of the celebration?

Well as a child we always had a large Easter basket filled with goodies. Since Easter candy will be 1/2 price before our Orthodox Easter, I will stock up and then put together some big Easter baskets for the niece and nephew this year.

Did you wear special or new clothes?

We didn't have new clothes. Being in upstate New York there would often still be snow on the ground, even in mid-April. So you didn't really see too many springtime fashions until May.

What kinds of decorations were created or put out for this holy day?

We decorated Easter eggs and got quite elaborate with them. Some were hollow (we did the trick of poking pins at each end and blowing them out) and then dyed and decorated with glitter or rhinestones or ribbons. We also made some large ones out of crochet string and spray starch using a balloon (you basically begin by blowing up a balloon, preferably into an egg shape if possible, wrapping string around it in every direction, spray with spray starch every few wraps, let it dry, then pop the balloon and remove it).

What year stands out in your mind when you think back through your life of all the Easter/Passover/other spring holy day celebrations you participated in? Why? What was special/unique/different about that particular one?

I seem to have enjoyed Easter more as an adult as I became involved with singing in a church chorus and doing some solo work. I was often asked to sing "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord" which is often done in the negro spiritual tradition. Having a bass/baritone voice it was one that fit my range but I still felt odd singing on Good Friday (see above). My favorite version however is by Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash and the Carter Family. Click here to listen.

Did you participate in any community events surrounding this holy day (egg hunts, etc.)?

No - Easter was mostly a family day. No activities besides going to church and then coming home to a big dinner and visits from family.

Do you have any favorite hymns, religious or secular songs, or other music?

Well besides "Were You There" mentioned above, I especially like O Sacred Head Now Wounded.

How do you celebrate this holy day now in comparison to when you were a child?

I now celebrate Orthodox Easter with my Greek in-laws. My mother-in-law was born in Greece and there is a very large Greek population here in Chicago (it is said to have the most Greeks in one city outside of Athens). We have a big meal and it begins with the red dyed eggs which represent the blood of Christ and rebirth. We all play the game tsougrisma which involves taking your egg, and tapping it on the end of the egg belonging to the person seated next to you. The goal is to crack the end of their egg without cracking yours. It is a process of elimination until there is only one person at the table who has an egg with no cracks.

And besides eating lamb, spanikopita, tyropita, rice pilaf and greek salad we also each tsoureki which is an egg bread with one or more of the red dyed eggs baked with it.


Miriam said...

Thomas, you brought back a memory of making large papier-mâché Easter eggs out of balloons and newspaper strips dipped in watery glue, then decorated and filled with candy. We did this in public school around 1973 - 1975. You won't find that happening, these days!

Terry Thornton said...

Enjoyable set of recollections, Thomas. I enjoyed reading them very much. One of your favorite hymns, O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, has a lot of history --- it was translated from an anonymous set of words in 1656 by Paul Gerhardt and updated in 1830 by James W. Alexander; set to music by Hans L. Hassler in 1601, and then harmonized by none other than J.S. Bach in 1729 [according to information p 286, The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989 version]. Bach's influence on the piece is evident if you follow that wonderful bass line and all its runs.

I find it so interesting that much of our traditional church music cuts across so many regional and denominational lines.

Lisa said...

It is interesting to see how much various European cultures have in common regarding Easter celebrations.

See my post entitled Easter traditions: Decorating eggs and... fighting! for Hungarian and Croatian customs.

Happy Easter!

100 Years in America
Small-leaved Shamrock
A light that shines again

Thomas MacEntee said...

Thanks for the comments!

Miriam - I do remember the papier-mache eggs as well. Right now I am envious of your ability to use the proper French accents in your comment!

Terry - my favorite version of O Sacred Head, Now Wounded is an instrumental one by the cellist John Catchings. He has only produced one CD in his career and it is stellar! It contains instrumental versions of Abide With Me, Holy, Holy, Holy, Finlandia and more. When I play it as background music, my friends are amazed at how they know the basic tunes but can't remember from where . . . I tell them it probably was a church in their upbringing!

Lisa - thanks for the heads up. As I said in a comment on your post, I think that due to the proximity of Greece and the Balkans that these "fighting games" probably are of a shared origin.