Thursday, 15 August 2013

Bringing you best wishes for St Maria Day in Corfu

On the eve of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the church bells toll and there is a procession through the village and a service in the church.

In the central plateia, the men prepare the sperna, soaking great tubs of raisins in water before taking them inside the hall and locking the doors to mix them up with the boiled wheat, almonds and seeds and maybe a dash of ouzo.

The key is turned from the inside and then the women and children are allowed in to run the production line.
Their nimble fingers make quick work of putting the mixture into bags for tomorrow's service.
And today, Marias in best clothes and newly-permed hair attend the morning service. There are older men in crisp white shirts and women in blocks of bright colours - orange, yellow, green - and widows in black.
Inside the church, there is chanting, some singing and the congregation makes the sign of the cross in formation.

Behind the screen of the iconostasis, the priest gets to work to make the wine holy and emerges from the central door with a golden book obscuring his face. The air is thick with the smoke of incense and the smell of basil as people brush past the herb, which is potted up in perfect orbs and dotted around the church.

An eighteen-month-old girl is carried in her mother's arms, pigtailed, immaculate, her mother with an elfin crop and halterneck dress with a stiff white collar. The child gazes in wonder at the pretty lights in the chandeliers overhead.

Pearls, best earrings and necklaces are all on display. There is a growler near us, humming deeply along with everything. The doors of the church are open to let the air in and outside in the plateia, a child falls and cries and then a stray alsatian is chased away by one of the two village dogs.

A swallow twitters and laughs as the priest gives the children a spoonful of wine and some communion bread. And still the small child gazes at the pretty lights and points to them while the sperna made last night is brought up the aisle and placed at the door.

The service over, the bells ring and the plateia is buzzing.
The shopkeeper's daughter fans herself with a card while her father serves a never-ending queue of customers and offers them cake.

The schoolteacher smiles and shakes my hand and touches my shoulder and everyone says xronia polla - many years. The rich, onion and meat aroma of a bubbling stifado spills out from the tavernas. They will be busy tonight for the panygyri.

And then the priest comes out of the church in his long black robe and heads for home.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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