Good Friday Celebrated with a Series of Byzantine Tableaux Vivants
There are many reasons to love the holiday of Easter. Here is mine: while Christmas nowadays is more or less the same everywhere – a truly globalized event, celebrated from Alaska to Zimbabwe with decorated pine trees, Silent Night and a jolly fat man in red pyjamas – Easter has managed to preserve its diversity, its many ancient faces and flavours.
The Philippines have their flagellants, Seville has its local chapel of the Ku-Klux Clan, while the Brits merrily roll Easter eggs down the hill, and there is only a small risk that you could mistake one country’s tradition for the others’. On Easter, you always know where you are.
We are currently in Greece to do some easy hiking on the beautiful island of Paros in the Cyclades, where we had the privilege of witnessing the Good Friday celebrations in the village of Marpissa.
Marpissa is a small place, even by local standards, counting fewer than 800 souls on an island with a total population of 17,000 permanent residents. One night every year, however, half the island seems to crowd into Marpissa’s narrow lanes to look at a series of tableaux vivants where local villagers take up the poses of the characters in famous Byzantine icons, a sort of Greek Oberammergau without action, words or straggly beards.
There are 17 such tableaux every year, scattered throughout Marpissa’s village centre, and the procession – featuring local islanders as well as visitors from mainland Greece and all over the world – starts at the main church after the Good Friday service at around 10 p.m. The stations of the procession resemble an extended way of the cross, building up from Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday …
… via the Last Supper …
… and the moment where Pontius Pilate tells the crowd that he “has a fwiend in Wome” …
… to the lamentation and descent from the cross.
The “actors”, all volunteers from the village and neighbouring towns, have to hold their poses for at least one hour (depending on the length of the procession), rain or shine. Or blow, one might add, with reference to the blustery northerly wind which made the conditions on Friday much more unfriendly than you would expect them to be at such southern latitudes in late April.
Only once in living memory, by the way, on a particularly cold and wet night a few years ago, did the organizers consider to call the whole thing off, but even then, they ultimately decided to go ahead and let all participants brace the rain.
The biggest mishap our knowledgeable and charming guide Christina – until last year a regular member of the cast herself – could remember was the time when an overexcited donkey refused to carry Jesus into Jerusalem and opted instead to run off into the night, to much hilarity presumably, Good Friday or not. (It seems that they do not know their W.C. Fields in Marpissa – otherwise they might have remembered that it is never a good idea to share a stage with children and animals, not even for Jesus Christ.)
Marpissa’s Good Friday celebrations go back to a village school tradition: about a hundred years ago, a school teacher thought that it would be a good idea to involve children at an early age into the preparations for the holiest day of the year. Even today, many children and, perhaps even more surprisingly, many people in their teens and twenties are actively involved in the festivities. After the procession is over, at around midnight, the local youths then assemble in the bars and nightclubs of the near-by coastal resorts to celebrate Easter their own way – the modern part of an old tradition.
We thank Mr George Bafitis, owner/manager of Hotel Kalypso (and who also happens to be the President of the Paros Hotel Association) for his warm hospitality.
Follow our discoveries of the island as guests of the Municipality of Paros (under the wings of the town’s Deputy Mayor Mrs Maria Chanioti) as we explore and enjoy the Cyclades.
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