"Lampri" (Easter Sunday) of 1925 in Steni.
This year, "Lampri" is on the 19th of April and almost all the inhabitants, both young and old, fast through the Pentecost -although an abstemious diet is a daily phenomenon when it comes to the family of that era. Everyone must certainly fast so as to receive the Holy Communion on Easter Sunday.
This month the farmers have already taken their livestock (oxen and donkeys) out of the stables, after almost running out of straw and "tai" (ground seed of pith-plants and cereals) that the livestock ate during the months of winter. They have roped them inside the "farrades" (place with green, grazing grass, mainly straw).
The shepherds daily take their flocks to the mountain where grazing is easy, since the meadow is verdant with cereals that they planted in the winter. All the workers in the mine of the "Limni" (Lake) take off in the morning together, some on foot and others riding the animals, so as to go to their workplace that is five kilometres away from the village.
The children -or at least those whose parents send them to school -continue their classes in the newly built premises of the Elementary School, Mr. Loukas Argyridis (from Katydata of the Solea region and now living in Sylikou) being the first teacher.
All the inhabitants of the village await with anguish the festive days of Easter because they are days of joy and rest from the difficult daily struggle for survival. Every person, each in his/her own way, will celebrate these days, although the financial state during these years is tragic. The expectation that the arrival of the British would change the situation did not come true.
Lazarus's Saturday is the day warning in advance that Easter is coming and -after the mass -Christodoulos Zanthi (also known as Zantouri) will sing "Lazarus's Chant": "Lazarus hailed from Bethany…"
The weak goes by in the same manner that it did for years, everyone at work and everyone at the meals, until the "Sunday of the Olive (tree)" (Palm Sunday) when everyone goes to Church, young and old, carrying an olive branch with them and welcoming Jesus as he enters Jerusalem riding "a young donkey". The branches will remain in the Church until forty days pass and then they will be transferred home. The leaves will be used for incensing (placed on live coals), driving away "pasa kako" (every evil) and also for protection from the "ammati" (evil eye, jealousy).
The Week of Passions ("Miali Eftomada", Great Week) is a week of preparations for every household. The yards must be swept with the "sarkes" (brooms made out of some type of bush) and the house's interior and exterior must be whitewashed ("asprogiatizo", whiten with material produced by the mixture of limestone and water). The whitening is done with the "froukali" (a small handheld brush made of rush / river tule).
The men will take the "alesma" (cleaned wheat, washed and dried in the sun) to the flourmill / water mill so as to grind it and bring back the flour in a sack, on the back of the donkey. All the families that own "tsoures" (goats) or "kouelles" (sheep) will surely have cheese for the "flaounes" (plural, cheese pastry with raisins), while the rest will buy some if they can afford it.
The days of Passion Week always pass by fast because everyone is busy with something; thus on "kokkinopempti" ("Red Thursday", Maundy Thursday) the children will go up to the mountain and bring some pine bark, which they will heat in water and place the eggs in, painting them red. It is probably the happiest day for the children, while the mothers will store the red eggs away from the children so as to "save" them until Holy Saturday.
On Good Friday, after the morning's liturgy, the young females will each take whatever flowers there are in the yard and place them around the Epitaph; in the evening the entire village will follow the Epitaph's Procession with much devoutness. These are times when faith is deeply rooted in the hearts of people, because for them religion is what they rely on in their everyday struggle for survival.
In the morning of Holy Saturday, by the village's only fountain next to the river, built in 1902 along with the large reservoir and the taps, everyone is waiting with their crocks in order to take water to their home, the demand having increase today because the women are going to knead and then wash all their utensils.
There one can hear all the news / gossip of the village, as each person is waiting to get water or water the livestock. Holy Saturday is a big day for the ovens, since it is in there that the "sisamena" (bread with sesame on the outside), the flaounes (a mixture of kneaded, ground cheese with eggs and raisins in a triangular pastry), and the "empaskies" ("flaounes" in which pieces of meat are inserted) are going to be baked.
It is worth noting that the mixture we have mentioned above has been prepared since Friday so as to sponge (to rise). In a little while all the ovens will begin to smoke, while the housewives observe carefully so as to be sure that it "red hot" (at the right temperature) and thus bake the breads properly. In the "fournisma" (placing the kneaded bread in the oven) everybody helps because it must be done quickly, before the oven's temperature drops. On Holy Saturday the "skarparides" (shoemakers) and the "raftenes" (female tailors) must deliver the ordered items they were asked for months ago by each family, intending to wear them on Easter. The day ends and everyone goes home for a little rest, the day being exhaustive -especially for the housewives. The men ask their wives if they "got the bread right" while they usually reply affirmatively.
They must all have a few hours of sleep because the bell (triangle) will ring at 11 for the Liturgy of the Resurrection.
The time passes quickly in such festive days and in a while some dogs will start barking in the village, hearing footsteps in the street that leads to the Church. It is Papa Tzirkatzis (Papa Kyriakos), who is heading for the church an hour before to take care of the Resurrection's last details.
In the church's yard some young males have already lit the "Lampratzia" (bonfire), using the pieces of wood that they carried earlier, since the village's tradition demands that there must always be a bonfire during the night of the "Good Word" (Resurrection).
The priest chats with them for a while and then enters the church, the chanters arriving soon since for years now they are accustomed to arrive before the other fellow-villagers. The time is eleven and Papa Kyriakos comes out and calls for the bell to ring, which is tied on a terebinth-tree, right across form the church's entrance.
The sound of the bell pierces through the quietness of the night, being heard at quite a long distance from the village. In a while, lights starts to show from all the houses of the village, since almost everyone is awake and the petrol-lamps are lit so that the house is illuminated and they can prepare for the church. Conversations can be heard in every neighbourhood of the village and the dogs are barking from one end to the other, not being used to seeing and hearing the villagers getting up and leaving their houses at such time.
Slowly they start arriving at the church, the ones that their houses are close to the church usually arriving first, while the others come some time soon.
The courtyard is packed with people, mainly men and children since the women go straight into the church. It is near midnight and someone calls for everyone to come into the church. Papa Kyriakos will ask if everyone is present, no-one must miss the "Good Word". Everyone is checking to see who has not arrived yet so that someone will go to his / her house and wake them up, just in case they haven't heard the sound of the bell or to find out the reason for the delay.
Present are the "Mouchtaris" (village's head / notable) Elias HadjiLampis, the Mayor of Polis Chrysochous Theodoulos Nittis, Steni being a part of it since 1882, and all the villagers. The chanters Hadji-Achilleas Hadji-Argyrou, Stylianos Papacharalampous, Ioannis Christodoulou "Aroitos", and Kyriakos Papa Dimitri "Giakkous" are at the Psalters. Once the priest is sure that everyone is present, he will come out of the Holy Gate with the "Trikeri" (three lit candles) and the Cross and chant "Defte lavete Fos en tou Anesperoy Fotos" (Come forward and receive Light from the Eternal Light). Many rush to receive the light by lighting up their candle, which they brought with them, and in a little while the Holy Light illuminates the church.
Then follows the "liti" (litany, procession) around the church and the priest will read the Gospel of the Resurrection at the church's west entrance. Papa Kyriakos will be forced to kick the door hard as he enters the church, while saying "Arate pylas oi archontes ymon kai eparthite pyla aionioi kai eiseleusetai o vasileus the Doxis" (referring to the "opening of gates" for the King of Glory to enter), because the person standing behind the door does not aim to move and let the priest enter. The congregation then bursts into laughter, commenting on the incident; everyone enters the church saying to each other "Christos Anesti" and "Alithos Anesti" ("Christ has Risen", "Verily He has"). The night that everybody was waiting for all year has arrived and everyone's faces are shining with joy and content.
The Service of the Resurrection will continue inside the church and everyone awaits with anguish the moment of the Holy Communion. Fifty days they have waited for this moment, in order to receive from Papa Kyriakos the Body and Blood of Christ who has Risen tonight. They all wait patiently for their turn and those that receive the communion come out of the church, where the exchange of wishes continues. Conversations are carried out mainly by the men, as they await for their wives to receive the Holy Communion since the men are the first to receive it. These are times of men's dominance and after everyone comes out of the church they all head home, carefully carrying the torch or candle with the Holy Light so that it will not go out.
With this candle they will light all the lamps and the cresset (small oil-lamp), which they keep at home before an icon. The carrying of the Holy Light into the house is something that everyone makes sure it is done, because it is a blessing for the house and the owner's possessions.
On Sunday morning the preparations will begin for cooking lunch, which will be in accordance with every family's financial state.
Usually the shepherds or those who keep animals will slay a goat or lamb, while the rest will slay a goat or turkey. In that era these birds usually could be found in every home's yard -of rich and poor alike. Kindred families were accustomed to gather in one house and after the table is set, the eating, drinking, and singing begins. Always present in the middle the table is the "kolotzi" (gourd) with the wine, which is the only alcoholic drink existing in the villages during this era.
Out of all the days of the year, this day's table is the most opulent for every family and so everybody -young and old - will enjoy it to the fullest.
Time passes pleasantly with songs, jokes, and -of course -food, though in about an hour the bell rings once again for the "Stavros" (Cross, Vespers of Love) and so everyone heads for the church where, right after the liturgy, the playing of violins and games that take place in its courtyard every Easter will begin.
The entire village is gathered outside the church, some sitting and others chatting amongst them. The keeper of the makeshift coffee-house that has been raised in the church's yard cannot catch up with the orders for coffee, rose-water squash, and "loukoumia" (Turkish delights), these being the only items he has to offer. Today the men pay for all the treats they order for their wives, their daughters, their godchildren, and their best man or maid of honour.
This holiday is especially for the young ones, mainly the single males and females, being the only day of the year during which they all can spent some time together. Naturally the young females, all dressed with the finest piece each of them has and usually with vividly coloured dresses and brand-new shoes, are all sitting together and away from the men.
The men today are also wearing their best set of clothes, a new "vraka" (villager's pants, galligaskins), a silk shirt, a waistcoat, a woollen or silky "soztra" (girdle, waistband), and -of course -new "Fragkikes podines" ("Frank" leather boots, for the left and right leg, the boots that can be used for both legs are called "Tsaggaropodines". The straw hat completed the traditional men's attire of the era.
An exchange of glances begins among the young males and females, though even in such a day of celebration and joy the young females must behave "properly" and "be cautious". They must not give any cause for gossip. Besides, they are always under the surveillance of their parents or their brother.
This is an age when the "honour" and the "good reputation" is everything for a woman and woe to her that gives cause for any bad things to be said about her.
The violin player fiddles ceaselessly for the dancers, today being the day that they will prove to everyone their talent in dancing and singing, especially though to the female they want to impress.
All the songs revolve around love and the hard life of the rural man. The "zeimpeki" ("zeimpekiko", Greek dance in 7/8) and the "antikristoi" (dances with participants standing in two or more opposite rows) are the dances that are performed continuously, while the attendees throw a "mpakira" ("grosi", copper coin, piaster) or two into the tray that has been placed next to the fiddler. He must also earn something from today's celebration of Steni's people.
A bit further the young females are playing the games "potamos" (river), "voufa" (loom), and "ekklisia" (church) while the young males, loudly shouting, are playing "ziziros" (cicada) or "kattomougia".
There is some game for anyone who wants to have fun and enjoy this day, which comes only once a year.
The time passes and things are getting livelier. It seems that all the locals have left their troubles and grieves behind, enjoying this day -a day of merriment and love -as much as they can. The women chatter amongst them regarding various subjects or make jokes, others take pride in their sons and daughters that today are presenting their best self, their beauty and their grace. The men are laughing and kid each other, congratulating their sons out loud as they compete in singing and dancing.
The game everyone is waiting for is "mylonas" (miller), played with mastery by Stylianos Gabriel (a. k. a. "Polaselas").
He sits cross-legged having two stones in front of him, one upon the other, rubbing them in the manner that millstones revolve in the flourmill. Next to him a long and thick cane-stick, which he uses in order to keep the "chicken" away as they try to eat the wheat that he is supposedly grinding. The young men approach his ear, the miller pretending to be deaf, asking him with a loud voice if "the mill has any millings". He replies "Eshi tzie Heli" (it has and it wants). Another person asks if they he has the time to grind his wheat, the Miller replying "are your horses male or Female"? Some men are trying to play the role of the chicken, which are attempting to eat his wheat, coming towards the Miller; however, he grabs his cane and swings it forcefully, hitting any legs that are found before him. Some jump to avoid the -always mighty -blow though others take the Miller's blow. The game causes a lot of laughter and after a number of "casualties" caused by the "Miller", the game ends with everyone congratulating Mr Stylianos for playing his part perfectly.
Someone comes, bringing a rope along with him that will be used for a competition between the married and the single men. He asks about who is willing to compete and invites the ones hesitating to join the teams.
The two teams are finally formed by 8-10 persons each and everyone is trying to fasten the sole of their boot to the ground by using the boot to dig, creating a small "step" that helps them not to slide. The signal is given and then everyone starts encouraging the two teams. It is a tough battle since there are strong individuals in both teams. Some of them having gained plenty of experience in the game in previous years.
In the end the "singles" team will pull the married ones over and then the teasing starts. The defeated team is trying to justify the loss, using certain excuses that make all the attendees laugh. Someone is saying that the "pulling" started before the signal was given, another one claims that they allowed them to win so as not to embarrass them before the ladies. Father Kyriakos wishes to all of them well and that next year the married ones will win, provided they regularly attend church; Theodoulos Nittis, being an excellent and fierce hunter, jokingly tells them that he will offer a rabbit to the head of the winning team. Dimitris Hadji-Papagiannis, the keeper of the village's coffee-house, offers to give free coffee all the members of the team the next time they come to his coffee-house.
In the meantime, it has started getting dark and one of the attendees asks the fiddler to play the "pologiasto" (last dance), giving the chance to those who haven't danced all day to do so and thus end today's beautiful celebration.
After this dance, slowly the church's yard begins to empty and everyone heads home, talking amongst them about today's events.
The last one out is the fiddler, who came from another village, counting the day's proceeds. After finishing, he whispers "We did well, thank you Lord, let the people of Steni be well".
Easter of 1924 went by, offering moments of joy and relaxation to everyone. Walking on their way to their homes, people are asking each other "when is next year's Easter", though naturally no one knows since there is no way for them to find out. Perhaps Papa-Kyriakos knows but it is certain that the Teacher will inform them once he returns from his village, Sylikou, where he went to spend Easter with his family.