It has been Greek Orthodox Easter. The Paschal lamb (in fact a goat) is slaughtered, roast whole on a spit, and eaten; the best wine is opened and drunk, loud music is played, people gather and talk, or rather bellow at each other; all these things to gross excess.
Sometimes, after a drink or two, or when feeling especially exasperated, I whisper confidentially to someone what torture I find the whole business. They whisper back ‘Actually, so do I, but you have to do it.’ I’ve had that secret, sotto voce, corner conversation with so many different people, on so many Easters, that I have to begin to wonder — is it possible nobody in fact enjoys it, that everybody is pretending?
At midnight on the Saturday, after we had been deafened by a friend’s double-barrelled twelve-bore loosed off in a vaguely upward direction, and the dogs and cats had been reduced to abject terror by the fireworks outside the main church, we settled down to eat our Mayiritsa — a soup made from the liver and intestines of the goat. Yes. As we did so, a friend — he publishes Greek poetry in English translation, so is clearly a daring man — said quite openly, fully in the hearing of the rest of the company, ‘Simon, you must realize we don’t do all this for amusement: it’s a duty.’ No-one contradicted him.
So the visiting Martian anthropologist will have to report back: ‘The humans are all masochists: they spend their special feast days doing things they really hate doing, and woe betide anyone who doesn’t frantically pretend to be having a lovely time.’