Rebecca Elia's Blog

All about Feminine Health, Healing, and Greece

Friday, April 17, 2009

Red Poppies, Greek Easter

It’s Greek Easter again. One would think that after traveling to Greece annually for nineteen years I would have experienced Greek Easter on many occasions, but, in fact, I only did so once. I usually travel to Greece in the Fall, so to witness April was rather unusual. It happened the year that I lived in Greece. I was hanging out in Athens for the long cold wet winter. I wasn’t prepared, even though I had been forewarned. When my friend, a former American turned Greek native, discovered that I had left my long silk underwear behind, she advised me to contact my parents and have them send it immediately. I didn’t believe her. Surely after living two years in Maine, I would know when that extra layer was necessary. After all, Athens shared a similar climate with California. This was going to be a piece of cake, or so I thought...

When the hurricane hit, it took out two of three Athenian power towers, and with them went the electrical grid of the entire city. Soon after, shortages followed--shortages of batteries and candles, bunsen burners and fresh foods. Worse yet, I was ill--so I was confined to my apartment. My only unexpected benefit from this challenging situation was weight loss from the under-advertised but highly effective hurricane diet. That, and the free water show outside my window--Niagara Falls rushing off the top of the gymnasium roof and pounding onto the pavement below.

It was dark. It was cold. I was sick. It felt like the Apocalypse. This was not how I had envisioned the world’s last days; where was the fire?

When the electricity finally returned, we had rolling blackouts. This takes on a different significance in Greece. Water heaters are not on automatic cycling. You must turn on the electrical circuit fifteen minutes prior to your bath in order to avoid glacial waters. So when the light in the hallway went on, no matter what the time, that was my cue to flip on the hot water circuit, and, shortly after, to take my bath.

I remembered all of this a few months later during Easter week (called “The Great Week” by Greeks). The coming of Easter that year was more dramatic than any other year. After all, it was the first time that I had survived an apocalypse. Rebirth was no longer an abstract concept; it embodied its physicality. I had decided to travel north to Volos to spend Easter with my friend’s family. This meant a five-hour bus drive from Athens through the twin sister of California’s central valley. This was pre-iPods and text messages. I had run out of English books long ago, and my Greek wasn’t quite good enough to follow the circulating gossip. Were the two yia yias (grandmothers) discussing the beets they had cooked that morning or the window shutters that needed to be repainted? Were they talking about their eyeglasses or their homemade lentil soup? (My apologies to non-Greek speakers)

So while turning to look out a grungy window, I prepared myself for the familiar, boring, dried-out, wheat-colored landscape. My astonished in-drawn breath grabbed the attention of the middle-aged woman sitting in front of me. She quickly glanced out her window too, paused, and then shook her head, as if to say what did this woman find so captivating? Is she a foreigner who is mesmerized by even the dullest Greek scene? The same type who squeals at her first site of the Acropolis, or finds evil eye pendants so beguiling? Strange, I didn’t think she was a foreigner…she looks Greek, she speaks Greek…maybe she’s just crazy…

I was too excited by my own, apparently private, viewpoint to care about her thoughts. Stretched out in a rotating fan to eternity was a sea of blood-red poppies, strikingly sprinkled against the stark neutral background. Infinite thoughts flooded my mind…rebirth…the blood of Christ…the never-ending dazzling display of the sharp contrast of Grecian elements…the cyclical triumph of the earth’s life-giving force. Too many thoughts to digest. In that infinite moment, the universal symbolism of Easter came, as so many messages do, through the physicality of this land that I had come to love.

I wish all of you a Happy Rebirth!

Καλό Πάσχα!


  1. This wonderful story is very visually, spiritually and emotionally evocative. I get it, even if it was all Greek to the women on the bus!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thanks Cara! And I don't remember any chauvinstic Greek men on this bus--another plus!