Since I started travelling, Easter has taken many different forms in the last 8 years. My first Easter away from home found me at a campground in Venezia, Italy with two of my friends from high school and university. While Kendra was in the shower, Kaitlyn and I stole her clementines and hid them around our cabin so we could have an Easter Egg hunt.
My next foreign Easter was during the year-long tour with Watermark. We were in Târgu Mureș, Romania attending services where I soon entered a confusing whirl of language because of my German Bible, a sermon in Hungarian, and a translation through the little head-sets we were wearing. We couldn’t stop grinning because the man doing the translating kept breaking off to mutter in English, “Oh, these pastors, they never say what verse they’re on.” Because Transylvania is pretty evenly split demographically (Romanian 50.4%, Hungarian 46.7%, Gypsies 2.4%), that meant that Easter was only half over. The following week would be Easter in the Romanian Orthodox church. Without taking this fact into consideration, we drove 5 hours through Transylvania to get to Brașov, where Dracula’s castle is located. Because it was Easter (again), the castle was closed. The trip wasn’t a total loss. We had lovely views of the Carpathian Mountains, and I bought a t-shirt with a fang-bearing, blood-dripping smiley face that I try to wear every Halloween.
Foreign Easter #3 was in 长春 (Changchun) China, where I taught English for one year. There are Christians and churches in China, but you have to be careful how you go about celebrating that. I twice went to a Chinese church, where I was astounded to find a packed cathedral early on a Wednesday morning. The other church I went to was in English and French, and was exclusively for foreigners. (The local government enforced this) It was established by a Korean organization, and is attended by Koreans, Africans, Europeans, Australians and North/South Americans. At school, we were only permitted to teach about ‘safe’ topics like the Easter Bunny, but I had some classes that were brimming with curiosity about the Resurrection story and the traditions that resulted from it. The teachers at my school were very close and supportive of each other. New teachers were welcomed with open arms to our little ‘island’ of ‘foreign devils.’ For Easter, everyone gathered at Geneva and Michael’s house for a party. Geneva had spent hours making a four-layered chocolate cake from scratch, that she had had to bake layer by layer in her oven that was the size of a microwave. (She was the only teacher with an oven. The rest of us made do with our hot plates) The cake was adorned with icing and strawberries, and accompanied by dishes that others had prepared.
And that brings me to my fourth and most recent foreign Easter, here in the city of Санкт-Петербург (St. Petersburg), Russia, where I’ve been living and teaching English since September. Russia follows the traditional Orthodox Church, although half of the country would identify themselves as non-believers. That makes no difference on Easter, with 90% of the population attending services or preparing the traditional meals. With the Western influence, for which we can thank Peter the Great, there are also many Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. I attended Easter services at the Lutherkirche, where the sermon is given in German and Russian. The following week I took part in the Orthodox services. Mike and I started at the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral. The service began at midnight with the priests exiting the cathedral bearing the icons. They carried incense and crosses as they slowly and formally made a circle around the cathedral. The crowd of worshipers followed with their candles, and we were soon caught in the midst of a crowd singing along with the priests and occasionally breaking off to shout that Jesus had arisen from the dead. The priests led the crowd into the church, which was brightly lit and was soon made brighter by the candles that everyone purchased and lit before the many icons. Choirs of Gregorian chanters sang throughout, and the priests disappeared behind their screens and then re-emerged at different times during the service. There are no pews or places to sit, so everyone walks around to pray before different icons. The worshipers reverently crossed themselves and bowed throughout. Mike and I then went to a smaller cathedral, and then to Kazan Cathedral. Kazan is the largest church in the city, and there were many video cameras to record the service. We left at 3 a.m., but the services continue for several hours more.
The next morning we had a traditional feast. Lena had prepared a special kind of cake made from curds and fruit that are boiled within a mold that leaves an imprint of religious symbols. The shape of the cake is a pyramid, and represents Golgotha. On the top of the cake a burning candle is placed to represent the cross. They also dye eggs (red being the favored color) and ‘fight’ them. Two eggs face off at the pointy end, and the holder of the intact egg is the winner.