Once upon a time in the east

In which your correspondent is doused in holy water and discusses the economics of collective farming.

(Source: James Thomson)

This year I had two Christmases – not bad for a heathen.

The second one – celebrating Epiphany or ‘Three Kings’ for Roman Catholic Slovaks, the baptism of Jesus for Greek Catholics, and Christmas for Orthodox churches that observe the Julian calendar – was on January 6, in a Ruthenian village in eastern Slovakia.

This being Slovakia, a place where every feast arrives a day early, the main meal was actually on the 5th.

But we sat down to eat only after the local Greek Catholic priest had paid a house visit, with a female verger and two young choristers in tow. They belted out a couple of hymns in Old Church Slavonic, lustily accompanied by all the villagers within earshot.

The house was then blessed by liberal applications of holy water (I was dealt a bracing faceful), before the priest was farewelled with a shot of 52-percent-strength jablkovica (another tradition in which I was required to participate), the verger with a tenner for the church fund, and the choristers with a fistful of chocolate.

Aside from the unique customs and deep hospitality that I witnessed, and that reminded me of why I so enjoy living in this wonderful country, some things stood out.

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