If it wasn’t for the radio yesterday, I wouldn’t have realised it was St. George Day. And thanks to my favourite morning show, I found out St. George is the patron saint of England and his celebration day, National Day of the country. You can see my family name is George as well, and I find this to be a funny coincidence, me having moved to this country.
The fact didn’t come as a surprise. Thinking of his knightly figure, fighting and defeating the dragon, it feels only natural that he became the emblem of England. On the other hand though, the real story of this Christian saint seems to say that his faith was so strong that he gave up his life as a Roman soldier, with all the privileges that came with it, and risked facing the consequences of practising a faith considered dangerous or unacceptable in his times. It’s a life story of passion, dedication and humility.
The roots of the name though are Greek, meaning “the one who works the land”. Georgos is derived from ge = earth and ergon = work.
I can say I celebrated my family name day, England National Day and the patron saint of the church where my father serves as a priest (another happy coincidence) by holy and sacred work search. Not that I mind.
What I haven’t celebrated properly is Easter.
Easter Sunday roast, on 2008, with my foster brothers, over dad’s shoulder
While Christmas became such an overwhelming holiday in the whole of the Western world, prone to criticism that it’s more of a commercial happening, a rush to buy, overeat and stress about decorating your house, cooking, organising parties and families getting together, Easter seems to be more of a quiet one. For people who don’t practice the Christian faith or just do it as a family tradition, Easter might not make a lot of sense anyway. Jesus’s story is impressive, for many it might be just fiction, some might not be interested at all, or practice other religions or religious beliefs.
I don’t know so much about how Easter is celebrated in the UK, but some things seem obvious: lamb roast, family meals, chocolate eggs, and chocolate egg hunts or other activities for the kiddies. For me, as a Romanian living in the UK, Easter is something I’ve lost when moving here, but I intend to take it back starting next year.
In Romania, as a country with a population still quite attached to the old Christian Orthodox rituals and traditions, Easter is as much a celebrated and well prepared holiday as Christmas. Respecting a set of rituals and doing things in a certain manner, every year, gives a sense of continuity, builds a feeling of community and meaningfulness.
To fast prior to a sacred day means to prepare yourself by abstaining from the consumption of certain foods, which can only have the psychological effect of enjoying everything even more when the time comes. It’s worth to mention that consumption of more vegetables, while pushing aside meaty and dairy products, is a great way of purifying your body of toxins. Well, it used to be, as people in old times wouldn’t have so much veggies available over winter and had to rely on meat and flour, plus potatoes for the season.
In the week of Christ’s Passions, starting Thursday evening, church services commemorate what happened each day before He was crucified. People go to church for the evening, then next day they start making preparations for the celebration. Friday and Saturday are mostly baking days, preparing the base for the cakes, making cookies, getting the meat ready to be roasted, and dying the eggs.
Talking to mum the Saturday before Easter she told me while she was boiling the 50 eggs to be coloured later she thought of me, as this used to be my preferred task since childhood.
Making red eggs for Easter, in 2008, and wearing my mum’s fleece coat, hahaha!
There is another tradition quite dear to me and meaningful, if you think of it. On Easter Sunday people would go and visit relatives, taking with them a gift of sweet bread, red eggs, and cake/cookies, to share. They would stay over for a chat, a drink and a snack, then take home the gift their relatives gave in return. Next thing, they would take another pack of treats from home and go to other close relatives. So they could spend the whole day visiting, chatting, having treats, and getting together with grandparents, cousins, uncles, which also strengthened family bonds and the feeling of community.
A story told and retold in our family involves my father’s second cousin, who used to be a very funny boy, well-loved for his humour, but also quite cheeky at times. After church and Easter roast dinner, he was sent by his nan (they all lived in the family house) to one of his uncle’s family with the packed treats. He left and then she waited for him to get back home bringing the sweet bread, red eggs and cake from uncle’s. And she waited. And she waited. Four hours later she was fuming, when he finally got home.
– What were you thinking, boy? Do you know what time it is? How on Earth are you going to get over to your other uncles now, when it’s so late in the day?
– Nan, don’t worry, I’ve already been to all of them.
The poor old lady’s face must’ve turned ripe tomato red. It was such a shame, unimaginable. The gift from others in the family must always be brought home, where you would have your packed treats cooked and prepared in your house, to be taken to the next relatives. They would probably know what came from whom. So that year nan had to apologise to many in the family for her grandson’s cunny way of sorting out things with less effort, sparing him to go back home every time.
Now reading about this one could ask: right, but if everybody visited everybody, what if you found nobody at home? No, it wasn’t chaotic, everybody took turns, some would wait for visits this year, while returning them the next. It was a cycle that had to be completed, and as we know, completing a cycle gives us a feeling of fulfilment, of security and of belonging.
All of these add to the feeling of a sacred time, of valuing people’s efforts and participation, as well as giving meaning to things beyond just stuffing one’s stomach with food and drink, and mind with entertainment. There are many other rituals and traditions, depending on the part of the country. Some of them involved young people getting together so that young men and women could meet, get a chance to chat and know each other, as a first step towards marriage and new families. But all of it meant they would get involved, organise and, above all, do things themselves. They would prepare the house, themselves and, in the end, family or community meals from scratch.
In contemporary society, buying everything ready-made, even the entertainment, is a source for a feeling of alienation. There is little, if any, direct connection between us and the chocolate Easter egg we’re eating. The only effort put into it ourselves is probably just going in an overcrowded Tesco or Salisbury and cueing long lines to pay for it. Being dependent on comfort has the effect of cutting people from a reality that used to be immediate, touchable, colourful and needed attention, for a virtuality that we are not even sure where it comes from anymore.
Finding again something that can revive those sacred rhythms, that feeling of being part of a meaningful reality, in a meaningful world, structured, beautiful and amazing at the same time, might be crucial for humanity now. It’s probably time for reinventing our relation to everything, which human beings have proven so far they can do so well, with all the challenges and difficulties and even catastrophe in their way.
I will conclude with a greeting I missed this spring, more than before, one being used on Easter Sunday if not for a week in Romania: “Hristos a inviat!” (Christ has risen!).