Monday, March 30, 2009

A Little About Greek Easter

Easter time, from the time before the Lenten fast through Holy Week and the celebrations of Easter, is a special season in Greece.

The date of the Greek Orthodox Easter is based on a modified Julian calendar, while the Western world uses the Gregorian calendar, therefore the festivities do not usually occur at the same time as other Christian Easter celebrations.

In 2009 Easter will be celebrated by many Christians on April 19, with many traditions that make Easter in Greece different than Easter celebrations in other lands.

Greek foods and traditions mark the season as uniquely Hellenic. The history of Greece traces back far past the beginnings of Christianity, but from the very earliest days of the Christian faith the Islands of Greece and the Greek people have embraced these beliefs and made them part of the Greek heritage. Of all the Christian feast days, Easter is the greatest time for foods, feasting and celebration to people in the Greek Orthodox faith.

Greek Lenten Traditions

The celebrations for Easter truly begin two months before with Mardi Gras. The Carnival or Apokria season starts on the Sunday of Teloni and Fariséou and ends on Shrovetide Sunday with the Burning of the Carnival King...setting fire to an enormous paper maché effigy of Judas in the early evening. The fireworks and feasting continue throughout the night. The next day, Kathará Deftéra or Kathari Deutera, is known as Clean Monday or Ash Monday

For Greeks, Clean Monday is one of the most festive holidays of the year. Decorated with the colorful local almond trees and mimosas bursting into bloom, nature invites children and their parents into the hills of Athens and the Greek countryside. Flying kites and feasting at local tavernas or outdoor picnics is how Lent begins in Greece.

Htapothi Octopus and calamari or squid, prawns, Soupies Giahni - cuttlefish stewed in wine, rice pilaf with mussels, varieties of bean stews and salads, Taramosaláta - fish roe dip, Lenten dolmades or Dolmáddes - rice stuffed grape vine leaves, Halva a semolina pudding, plenty of meat free salads and the once-a-year lagana, a yeastless bread, are a small portion of the unique tastes of the day accompanied by joyous music.

If Apokria, Kathará Deftéra and Lenten Sunday feasts are the preliminaries for Greek Easter, Holy Week is the peak of these activities. On Holy Thursday the bright dyed red eggs that are symbolic of Easter in Greece are prepared. Tradition says that the Virgin Mother, Mary, dyed eggs this color to celebrated the Resurrection of Christ and to celebrate life. Every Greek family prepares these eggs as part of the Easter Sunday Resurrection Table.

Otherwise, the women in Greek families are busy baking kouloúria - dough cookies and Tsouréki - traditional sweet bread for the Easter feast. In Corfu and Zakynthos earthen water pitchers, Stámnes, are thrown into the street to bring luck.

On Good Friday or Great Friday, flags at homes and government buildings are set at half mast to mark the mournful day. The Procession of the Epitáphios of Christ, the Ritual Lament that has survived from Homeric times, mourns the death of Christ on the Cross with the symbolic decorated coffin carried through the streets by the faithful. On Corfu, the procession of St. Spyridon is held on Easter Saturday.

Holy Saturday is filled with anticipation of the religious celebration of Easter and the Resurrection. People begin to gather in the churches and squares in cities, towns and villages by 11 p.m. for the Easter services. Large white candles, lampáda, are carried by just about all of the faithful. At midnight the church bells toll as the priests announce Christós Anésti...Christ is Risen! Fireworks are set off, in some areas gunshots are fired and the each person in the crowd answers with the joyous responses of Alithós Anésti - Truly He is risen and Alithinós O Kírios - True is The Lord.

Greek Easter - A Time for Family

The people leave the churches and crowded squares and make their ways to homes of friends and relatives. The candles they carry are placed in each home and burn through the night to symbolize the Light returned to the world. Celebrations continue with the cracking of eggs and The Resurrection Table. The Kokkina - pasxalina avga - dyed red Easter eggs that are found on the Resurrection Table become pieces of a traditional game. Each person takes an egg and challengers attempt to crack each others' eggs. The breaking of the eggs is meant to symbolize Christ breaking from the Tomb. The person whose egg lasts the longest is assured good luck for the rest of the year.

The traditional foods on the Resurrection Table: hiroméri - smoked salted pork; cheeses; Magirítsa - a creamy, lemony soup made from the lamb sweetmeats; kouloúra - Greek Easter bread; Tsoureki; Lambropsomo and other Easter breads and plenty of wine, retsina and ouzo insure a feast that will last throughout the night.

After the night of feasting and celebration, everyone is still up early on Easter Sunday morning. The Easter Sunday table is prepared and the festivities continue! The Easter meal is truly a feast. Salads of beans, greens and seafood, vegetable dishes that are grilled or cooked to be served with the rice dishes, Kokoretsi, breads, cakes, cookies, wines, ouzo...

The main dish at the Easter Table is the lamb or goat. Served in honor of the Lamb of God who was sacrificed and rose again on Easter, the whole spiced lamb roasted over a charcoal fire is the most traditional of Greek Easter foods. The Easter Sunday celebration lasts through the day while visits are made to family and friends and the Easter feast is shared with every guest.

Each person that enters the home is greeted with Gigto kaló tis iméras! - For the good of the day! and with a plate of food and an invitation to join in the feast. Besides bringing insult and bad luck to a host who is rejected, the foods are so delicious...who could refuse?

Easter Monday is a much more relaxed day when everyone gets ready to return to work and school. The main work of Easter Monday is to finish the foods that were not eaten the day before!

Kaló Pás'ha...Happy Greek Easter!

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