5 Greek Easter Traditions
As some of you may know if you've been following my latest blog posts, this weekend is Greek Easter. I know what you're thinking. Are Greeks really so naughty that Jesus had to die all over again a month later just for our sins? While this sounds entirely plausible, the official reason is that the Orthodox church follows the Justinian Calendar instead of the Gregorian one adhered to by the rest of Christianity. But that's enough about Christ, like most events in the Greek calendar, Easter (or Pascha) is all about the food...
For 40 days before Easter, Greek Orthodox people fast by sticking to a mostly vegan diet before going into full feast mode this weekend.
So what do Greeks eat at Easter?
On Holy Thursday* people start baking their tsourekia, a sweet bread a bit like brioche, flavoured with orange and baked in the shape of a braid to symbolise the Holy Trinity. Lots of Greek traditions are also tied up in pagan traditions, notably their obsession with chasing away evil spirits, something that can apparently be done by the shapes in the bread! But wait until Sunday to send them out with a bang...
*My dad has been baking them since last week, so if my apron is a bit tight this weekend we know who to blame...
People also decorate their Tsoureki with red painted boiled eggs, which are another big symbol of Greek Easter. Thursday is also the day when eggs are boiled and then dyed red to symbolise Jesus' blood. While this prospect isn't quite as appetising as your Western chocolate eggs, it is arguably a lot more fun. Before eating the eggs on Sunday to celebrate the return of Jesus, everyone picks an egg as their weapon of choice and the tsougrisma game begins. You declare 'Christos Anesti' (Christ has risen!) and your opponent replies 'Alithos Anesti' (Indeed he has risen!) before you tap their egg with the end of your egg to see which one will crack. The uncracked egg then takes on the other eggs until there is only one winner. The winner will obviously have good luck for the year.
Holy Friday is a bit of a downer, it's the day that Jesus died so there isn't much in terms of interesting food traditions as people are in mourning. Your hardcore Orthodox Greeks don't even cook on this day (shocking, I know) and just eat simple things like soup. People spend the day decorating the 'epitaphio'- Jesus' tomb- in the church, ready for the procession.
On Holy Saturday people start preparing for the feast, which is bad news if you're a lamb.
Easter is a pretty bad time to be a vegetarian in Greece (and an even worse time to be sitting on a hillside of a Greek village expecting to hear birdsong...) Most families roast a whole lamb for Easter, and some villages have rows of spits for a big communal party, but before the feast you break your fast at midnight on Saturday with a very special soup...
Christ's big comeback is celebrated at midnight on Saturday and is one of the most beautiful church services that this atheist has ever witnessed. Everyone takes a candle and then the flame is passed by the priest and then from person to person until everyone's candle is lit- you get bonus good luck points if you can get back to the house with the flame still lit! After the service which is often accompanied by a firework display, everyone goes home to break their fast with a traditional Easter soup called Mageiritsa. Mageiritsa is made from the insides of the lamb, and is really not as offal as it sounds!
A smashing Easter tradition
My favourite Easter tradition actually has nothing to do with food (shocking if you know me in the slightest) and is a tradition that is specific to Corfu.
In Corfu on Easter Saturday giant red clay pots and vases are thrown from balconies and smashed on the street below. This is another tradition supposed to scare off those pesky evil spirits (not to mention unsuspecting passers by!) and is also said to symbolise the earthquake caused by Jesus' resurrection. The streets of Corfu town fill with spectators who cram under the balconies for protection as six foot jugs (often filled with water to make a bigger bang) come crashing down around them at midday! What could possibly go wrong?
If you would like to play it safe while trying a Greek easter tradition this weekend, why not come down and try a lamb pita at Lakeside, or order one to take away...