A lot of the Greeks have been sharing this article about Greek Orthodox Easter. Rita Wilson attempts to describe the tradition and magic of Greek Easter, but still…there’s something lacking. Pictures?
Perhaps. Word of advice. If you have a Greek Orthodox friend, get in there. Show up on Easter. Trust me, they’ll welcome you with open arms and a full plate. If you’re not convinced, perhaps an illustrated tour of Rita Wilson’s article will help you decide whether you’re going to spend this Sunday with the Greeks (as you should), or not.
We do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulorakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red. There is no Easter Egg hunt. There is a game in which you crack your red egg against someone else’s red egg hoping to have the strongest egg, which would indicate you getting a lot of good luck.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the lamb on a spit. I don’t think we ever celebrated Easter without the lamb on a spit. That’s just how we roll. I don’t know the gentleman below, but I chose this photo because he, somehow, represents the quintessential Greek dad/uncle. Look at the pride in that face. He bastes that lamb with care and pride – and with olive oil/lemon juice/oregano…that lamb’s close to being ready. I remember my dad would get pissed when people would pick at the burnt skin. True story.
Koulourakia. M’s mom sends me home with about a million of these every time I spend Easter with them. They are delicious and made with lots and lots of real butter. I try not to eat too many of them. I never try hard enough, though.
Easter eggs. Only red. For the passion and blood of Christ. I think. My mom would rub them with olive oil after dying them – so they’d be shiny. That’s what this person probably did.
This is what it looks like to break the red eggs. The egg that doesn’t break is the lucky egg. The person holding the lucky egg, therefore, is lucky. The person with the broken egg is not. That’s the breaks.
When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which reperesents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with a thousand glorious flowers, rose petals and smells like incense.
This is the Epitaphio. It’s pretty.
At a certain point in the Good Friday service, the Epitaphio is carried outside by the deacons of the church, as if they are pall bearers, followed by worshippers carrying lit candles protected from dripping on your clothes and on others by having a red plastic cup that sits below the flame to catch the wax drippings. Every Greek person knows all too well the smell of burning hair.
I talked about the smell of burning hair in my illuminating post on lambades. Onward.
As the service progresses, the moment we have all been waiting for approaches. All the lights in the church are turned off. It is pitch black It is dead quiet. The priest takes one candle and lights his one candle from the one remaining lit altar candle, which represents the light of Christ’s love ( I believe).
From this one candle, the priest approaches the congregation and using his one candle he shares his light with a few people in the front pews. They in turn share their light with the people next to them and behind them. In quiet solemnity, we wait until the entire church is lit with only the light of candles, the light that has been created by one small flame has now created a room of shared light.
This is what Saturday night, midnight, looks like at any Greek Orthodox Church, anywhere in the world.
And that’s what I’ll be doing at midnight tonight. Holding a candle (very carefully), at one of the neighborhood churches. Just me and M this year. We’ll be joining his big fat Greek family tomorrow, for the rest of the festivities. Happy Easter!