Easter with the dead
Easter is considered one of the biggest Christian celebrations across the world. The New Testament states that the resurrection of Jesus, which Easter celebrates, is a foundation of the Christian faith. Though there are many different ways that Christian’s celebrate Easter, one of the most unique is a tradition from Pontus.
Pontus is found in the modern-day eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey and though its name comes from the Greeks who colonized the coastal region and its mountainous hinterland. Pontic Greeks lived in the area from at least 700 BC but many left in 1922, after the Izmir Catastrophe.
9 days after Orthodox Easter, Pontic Greeks re-celebrate the Easter but this time with those no longer among them. They prepare food again, take the traditional red eggs and alcohol and they head to the cemeteries.
Burial customs were an important part of Pontic culture. According to tradition, souls come back to earth on this day to celebrate Easter with the and then return back to the sky.
It’s just few days after orthodox Easter when I visited Skisto cemetery in Athens. There dozens of Pontic Greeks are buried. Despite the heat, a lot of families have come to Skisto to visit their dead, packed around the Easter table. Every single grave was decorated with a wreath of flowers. They added colour to the white marble tombs while the bright sun gave a hopefully sense to the cemetery.
While I was walking around the cemetery I saw families starting to eat and drink but it’s hard to tell whether the atmosphere was happy or not. The first family I met was the Papadopoulos. Mr Papadopoulos lost his mother in 2011, since then he comes every year to spend the day with her and his other dead relatives. “This is a tradition that it must be continued by our children.
That’s why we take the whole family here” he tells me. Traditional pies, chicken and olives are only some of the food they have for the feast. His wife insisted we treat ourselves to food before we leave.
Later I met Mrs Peroukidi, a 45 year old woman who lost her 28 year-old son, Petros, a year ago in a car accident. She could barely speak as she tried to hold back tears. Like everyone else in the cemetery, she insisted on treating us to food and vodka “Please eat something, for the soul of my son,” she told me and filled a shot glass with vodka. His best friends, his aunt and many other relatives came to spend the easter with Petros.
When the sun went down, the families started to leave. They always leave some food, a glass of vodka for the dead and they say goodbye. But they will return next year, to celebrate with them again.