I know my way around Christianity fairly well, so I’m comfortable with the fact that easter is about more than egg-laying rabbits and plastic grass. But I never expected to spend so much time in the graveyard. Georgian Easter, unsurprisingly, present an entirely different version of the holiday with which I though I was familiar. After asking around about what to expect, I had a rough idea of what foods we would eat, and that we would go to church. Again unsurprisingly, thing didn’t proceed as predicted.
Celebrations began on Wednesday. Bebo (grandma) came from next door to announce that something was going on. Though I’ve come to understand much of what’s going on around me, when context is obscure to me, I lose my tenuous grasp of whatever meaning comes my way. “Do you want to come outside” asked Tevdore, translating something of the message. I don’t often say no to this question, so I left my book on the sofa and put on my shoes.
Clouds of smoke rose from beyond the garden wall, still visible in the slowly increasing darkness. This is not entirely unusual, but instead of the typical evening aroma of burning plastic, this smelled like something slightly less carcinogenic. We rushed out the gate as Tevdore explained “I love this day!”
On the street, there were fires burning in front of every house. Spring pruning debris proved the source of the pleasantly natural smoke, and we quickly lit a campfire-sized pile of dried-out vines and grass in front of the gate. The ritual came next. Everyone jumps over the fire three times, each time shouting, approximately translated, “devils burn, angels ascend!,” thus purifying the village in preparation for Easter celebrations.
I missed out on egg-painting on “Red Friday,” but arrived back in the village to visit the graveyard the Saturday. We lit candles at the grave of Tevdore and Ani’s great-aunt. I have never seen a more crowded graveyard; candles burned at nearly every grave, and many families were gathered around tables (a part of the more elaborate burial sites) covered with food and wine. Cemeteries here often sprawl far past the edge of town, but this one seemed like its own world today, full of light and life. The road was busier than I’ve ever seen it, as hundreds of locals visited their dead.
Traditionally, the most important church takes place on Saturday as well, but as there are no working churches in the village, we finished the evening at home.