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The Opening Season: Springtime

Woolly, white sheep grazing on a lovely green hillside invite visitors to the Emerald Isle via an Irish travel poster. Yet, beautiful Ireland has no monopoly on sheep or green hillsides. Springtime Hellas, with similarly uplifting scenes, can be equally rewarding. Greece is gloriously fresh in spring. And May Day (called Protomayia) is exceptional.

The only song my father sang to me, he repeated annually on May 1. I remember this part: ‘Kaloste ton Mai, ton hriso Mai, me anthi stolismenos eirthe pali.’ (Welcome May! Golden May, adorned with flowers, has come again.)

I never realized Papa’s aria was connected to the Greek holiday our family’s pioneer immigrants never imported to the U.S. — Protomayia, May 1, or May Day. My enlightenment occurred several decades later, in mid-spring, when my husband and I were treated to the Greek sight of placid sheep herds on verdant, wildflower-embroidered hillsides.

April in Hellas usually includes Holy Week, ‘Zoi en Tafo,’ midnight ‘Hristos Anesti,’ red eggs, and lambs roasting on spits. All of them were history when we arrived on the Sunday after Easter. Our previous Greek visits were in summertime. But late April and delightful ‘anixis’ (springtime) held wondrous surprises for us. ‘Anixis’ also means ‘opening.’

Our introductions to Hellenic ‘anixis’ literally opened out of the ground on the venerable Acropolis — effervescent red poppy clusters bloomed in the Parthenon’s rocky landscape. Days later, we discovered sassy poppies brightening Cyclopian monoliths in Mycenae. Springtime has delivered fresh color to ancient Greek sites for millennia.

Beginning our rental car journey from Athens to Peloponnesos we caught sight of sprouting greenery in Attica’s ancient crevices. Driving outside urban Athens, we questioned a velvety red ‘something’ blanketing hillsides. Closer inspection revealed ‘paparounes’ — millions of those bouncy, red poppies were welcoming us to Greek springtime.

It’s no wonder Protomayia/May Day with school festivities and multiple countrywide festivals happily affirms the long-awaited ‘opening.’ On May 1st, during our visit, stores closed for celebrations, brightly colored kites flew, Athenians traveled into the countryside to attend planned picnics, and most memorable — Hellenes cut wildflower posies (or bought florist’s flowers) and created beautiful, flowered wreaths to adorn the entrances of their homes and businesses. On May 1, fresh door bouquets beautify Greece in big cities and small villages.

Celebrating dark, cold winter’s final exit at May’s beginning was initiated in pre-Christian times. The word May (Mai) is derived from the mythical mother of Hermes, Maia, one of the Pleiades who lived on Arcadia’s Mount Kyllini. Her son Hermes, the messenger god, had winged feet to illustrate quick messaging service, thousands of years before FTD, smart phones, and Amazon.

With little U.S.A. recognition, because we commemorate ours in September, May Day is celebrated throughout the world as Labor Day.

The 1917 Russian Revolution prompted U.S.S.R. leaders to taint their version of flowery May 1 with grim military weapons parades negating the holiday’s original intention. Predating political and economic theories, May Day originated to celebrate opening blossoms, newly budding trees, and birds singing again. Greeks still celebrate it that way, while simultaneously honoring valued and vital labor.

Our drive through Peloponnesos during that memorable springtime found us enjoying greened valleys and highlands sprinkled with those quintessential red paparounes — everywhere — landscapes worthy of Claude Monet’s paints and genius.

Journeying through verdant countrysides in Corinthia, Argolida, Arcadia, we reached Laconia and the port of Gytheion. There we explored a charming antique store with lovely May wreath on its door. My husband purchased a very old ‘lihnari’ (oil lamp) because it reminded him of his Greek-village childhood years when burning oil in a tiny lihnari was “besides the stars and moon, our only source of light after sunset.”

Memories of Hellenic springtime are etched on our souls with wild paparounes, blooming almond trees, pink/white flowering fruit orchards, and shepherds with long crooks and barking dogs managing furry sheep and goat herds, which occasionally caused unexpected but fascinating traffic stoppages.

These delights for eyes and souls are not available in crowded June, July, and August when sizzling sunshine, renowned beaches, and icy, coffee frappes satisfy travelers to Greece. Satisfying, springtime Hellas awaits discovery — during greening April and ‘in golden May, adorned with flowers.’

Constance M. Constant has authored two books about Greek-American life and history focusing on the generation of Greek immigrants who arrived between 1890 and 1930 — and their children: Austin Lunch, Greek-American Recollections; (Cosmos Publishing 2005) and American Kid, Nazi-Occupied Greece Through a Child’s Eyes; (Year of the Book, 2016).


The recent tragicomic events at the church of the All-Holy Taxiarhes in the area of Megalo Revma of Constantinople, specifically, the assault by Archimandrite Chrysanthos on Metropolitan Athenagoras of Kydonion which involved the slapping of the archpriest's cheeks while he was venerating the icon of the Virgin Mary, are not only lamentable but also pitiful for the Patriarchate itself.

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