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Picnic with the Dead in an Idyllic Greek Village

The Pontics are a group of ethnic Greeks who prospered on the shores of the Black Sea between the years of 1914 and 1923. Over 350,000 of their population perished at the hands of the Ottomans, Kemalists and neo-Turks during the Greek Genocide, and those who remained were forced to leave their homeland to seek refuge in Greece. But even today, this small community manages to keep its age old traditions alive. One of their most notable customs is the yearly ‘Picnic with the Dead’.

Every year on the Sunday after Easter, also known as St. Thomas Sunday, several Pontic Greek families in the village of Rizana make their way to the local cemetery to picnic on the graves of the deceased. Many of them bring along folding tables and chairs, table cloths, traditional meals, vodka, flowers, and candles to set in the midst of the marble gravestones. No one is allowed to cry as the day is seen not as one of mourning, but of celebration in honor of the departed. Family members are seen smiling and greeting each other, “Christos anesti” (Christ has risen), while children laugh and play amidst the graves.

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