Greek Easter

Apr 4, 2015 | Religion, Special Occasions

This is one of the biggest holidays on the Greeks Calendar. The Greek Orthodox Easter is held every year and falls at different times of the year compared to the English Easter. Greek Easter follows the Grecian calendar and this is the reason why Greek Easter does not always fall on the same weekend as English Easter. To make it simple so that you do not have to go and look at the Grecian calendar Greek Easter dates are set based on the first Sunday following the full moon of the Spring equinox. Easter for the church is the celebration of the death and the resurrection of Christ. In ancient times it also marked the changing of seasons and the arrival of spring.

Palm Sunday falls on the Sunday before Greek Easter. The day celebrates the Entrance of Christ into Jerusalem following his great miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. This day is also referred to as Passover. The reason Palm Sunday is called Palm Sunday is because the people greeted Christ with palm branches. At church people will follow the icon of Christ around the church. Olive leaves placed into sacks and are kept in the church for forty days. The church gives out to all followers a cross-made from palm leaves.

Greek Easter can be referred to in many ways: Holy Week or Easter Week. During Holy week, it is traditional to bake the Tsoureki, Flaounes (Cypriot Easter Bread) and Dye Eggs on Holy Thursday. This is not always followed as people do lead busy lives. Holy Thursday is the crucification of Christ. All the church’s icons are covered with black veils.

From a young age my parents would take us to church to celebrate this huge event. Not only did we have to go to Church but we also had to fast. On Good Friday, there is a sad atmosphere and the church bells ring and flags fly at half-mast. One of my fondest memories of this night is the carrying of the Epitaphios (which represents the tomb of Jesus) around the Church. This religious event also brings people together to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. The resurrection of Christ starts at the midnight service and ends once the last guest has left.

Midnight mass is the most important of all religious days leading up to this big day. This is the true celebration of Christ. At midnight, the church turns off all its lights and all church followers light candles. During this part of the service all the followers sing out the traditional hymn “Christos Anesti” or “Christ has risen” After the service we all try and take the candles home and let them burn for as long as possible.

The celebration does not end here.  As most of the people have been fasting up to this date after midnight mass we all go home and we have a traditional meal.  This event like I have said is the biggest of the Greek calendar and it is not unusual to have parties at 2am.  We eat traditional food which in our family was Avgolemono Soup or “Egg and lemon Soup” then after that, we would have lamb done the traditional way.  The other traditional soup is called “Magiritsa”, this is made from the organs of the lamb and this soup is normally only eaten at this time of year.  This is the first meal for many people that have been fasting.  Some people will fast for 50 days, others 2 weeks and some only a few days.

The traditional Greek Easter Egg, no not the chocolate bunnies or chocolate Eggs other cultures are used but the Red Easter Egg. On most Greek orthodox tables, you will find the dyed hard-boiled Eggs. Traditionally Red but today you may find an assortment of colours. The colour red symbolises the blood that Christ had to shed for our sins on the cross. Cracking the egg symbolises Christ’s resurrection. These are the two reasons we Orthodox Christians crack eggs. Most families have used the cracking of Eggs as a game. With the person with the Egg that has not cracked declared the winner. In our family, the winning egg was dated and the person who won had their name also written on the Egg. The winners’ egg placed in a cabinet. The winner would also have luck during that year.

There are so many traditions that revolve around Greek Easter and the foods that are traditionally cooked. Tsoureki or Greek Easter bread is a sweetbread that is spiced with “Mahleb” which has a very delicate flavour that is similar to cinnamon. “Mahleb is not readily available everywhere and that is why most families will use cinnamon. Each family cooks Tsoureki slightly differently. Some families will place a red egg in the bread and others will bake smaller rolls.

Everyone knows that Greeks love lamb and at Easter this is the traditional meat served. Other meats can also be served. The reason lamb is so important in Greek traditions is because Jesus was affectionately known as the Lamb of God. John the Baptist was the first person to refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God.

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