Happy Holi!

I finally got to do it. I finally got to play Holi.

For those of you who don’t know, Holi is the Hindu festival of colors and it is an absolute party. Ever since I knew I was coming to India, it was the thing I was most excited about. And it’s pretty clear why.

First of all, you don’t “celebrate” Holi; you “play” Holi. I think that phrasing says a lot– it’s definitely not a sit-down, family dinner thing. To play Holi, people smear color all over each other, have water fights, and dance. Color runs everywhere. There were even a few points in the day when I couldn’t open my eyes because I was surround by a thick cloud of pink, or blue, or green, etc.

For the first half of the day, I went over to my director’s house to play Holi with the people in her family and neighbors. When I was invited, I thought that would mean *at most* thirty people but the total was more like a few hundred.  The venue was packed with people and there was even a full water tanker truck, a DJ, and reporters. I’ve been to some wild block parties but all that was something else.

By the time I left, I was drenched head to toe in the rainbow. Afterwards we did our best to clean ourselves up. I say “our best” because the dye in those powders really clings on to you. My neck stayed somewhat blue for two whole days and the outfit I wore will probably never recover (R.I.P.). Was I warned about that? Yes. Did I prepare enough for that? No. Still, the fun of being out in the thick of things was absolutely worth it.

Photo Credits to the Lovely Esme

A Double Holiday

Today, March 25, is a double holiday for the Greeks; Greek Independence Day, as well as the feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated on this day.

Greece began to become independent from the Ottoman Turks in 1829. The exact date of the liberation was not March 25, but since the day is a significant Orthodox holiday the two were blended into one celebration. Today there was a huge military parade through the main square. Ranks and ranks of military personnel marched proudly through the street. The line of tanks and jeeps of every size and shape seemed almost endless. Incredible amounts of artillery passed in front of me, while helicopters and jets flew overhead. It was an impressive and awe-inspiring display of the Greek military forces. As soon as the parade began, we started to clap and we did not stop clapping until the very last person passed an hour later. There was an incredible feeling of pride and vocation among those in the parade and those who were watching.

It was a beautiful day for a parade!

The feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the celebration of the day when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her she would conceive the baby Jesus.  This holiday, of course, occurs nine months before Christmas day. The Annunciation is a very common subject of Christian art. Yesterday I visited a middle Byzantine monastery in Daphni and saw a beautiful mosaic of the Annunciation. I made sure to take a photo in honor of the holiday!

A mosaic of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary –  Daphni Monastery (11th c.)

The Pantokrator of Daphni is a very famous mosaic of Byzantine art. You can see why!

The weather is becoming so nice. We have had several days of sun and 70 degree weather. Since it gets to be around 100 in the summer, the Greeks don’t consider 70 degrees to be all that warm. I actually saw a doting mother put a snow hat on her young son yesterday, though I was sweating in my t-shirt. In an effort to blend in, I am resisting wearing dresses and sandals, though I would certainly wear them in this weather at home. Tomorrow we’re heading to the beach because the temperature will be nearly 80. Hopefully we don’t see a single parka!



Birthday Weekend & Clean Monday

“Happy Birthday!”

When you are quite young, it is not unusual to imagine what your milestone birthdays might be like. Will I get a car when I turn 16? (Definitely not.) Will I have newfound freedom when I turn 18? (No.) Will I party til the sun comes up when I turn 21? (Ha! Still no.) When I was young, I could not have imagined that I would spend my 21st birthday in Athens, Greece. Secondly, I would have never imagined that my sweet aunt Malari would fly all the way from Portland, Oregon to celebrate my birthday weekend.

The celebrating began before that, even, on Thursday night when my entire Greek class met at the home of my Greek professor, Lida. We watched a Greek film called Πολίτικη κουζίνα and ate traditional Greek food. Lida was so kind and got cake and ice cream to celebrate two birthdays: mine and another student’s birthday which happened earlier that week. My professor gifted me a small book of children’s short stories in Greek. She handed it to me saying, “Maybe you will be able to read this when our class is over…” At least I can enjoy the pictures, right?

On Friday, when my aunt arrived, we took advantage of the warm and sunny day and hiked up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.

On Sunday, my birthday, we went to a traditional taverna to enjoy the very last evening of the Carnival season, which is three weeks long. There was traditional Greek music and Greek dancing. Since I had (poorly) taken one (short) Greek dancing class, I thought I had what it took to join a group of women dancing. Many of you have come to me and said you actually read this blog, so it is with much hesitation I share this video of my dancing skills. Anyway, here goes (feel free to only watch a few seconds):

The weekend concluded with Clean Monday, the first day of fasting in the Orthodox calendar. Clean Monday is celebrated by eating special Lenten foods like unleavened bread and octopus. Traditionally, kites are flown on this day as a symbol of the soul being lifted up. My aunt and I climbed to the top of Philoppapou hill to watch the kites and enjoy the view. The hill is directly across from the Acropolis hill and offers a great view of the Parthenon. Here is a view in the other direction looking out over Athens. The very large green space in the left portion of the photo is the National Garden.

The view of Athens from Philopappou hill.

This week begins the 40 day Lent period. Since 95% of the population of Greece is Eastern Orthodox, it is a unifying time of discipline and increased devotion. I will fast alongside them in preparation for Easter, the biggest celebration in Greece! With the conclusion of this day, my fun birthday weekend/family vacation comes to an end and I am back to being the student I came here to be. I could have never envisioned my 21st birthday to be in Greece, but I am so happy it was.