Easter in my household isn’t simple. I was brought up Catholic, meaning for most of my life I celebrated Easter with Catholic traditions, following the Gregorian calendar. However, when I married my husband I converted to the Greek Orthodox church. Greek Easter often falls a little later because it follows a revised Julian Calendar. Our family celebrates both and I wanted to share my favorite traditions with you.
My favorite Greek traditions
Going to Church during Greek Easter is a must. From Thursday to Saturday there are services which start with mourning the death of Christ on Thursday evening and Friday. These services are normally more subdue and in some places in Greece they play out the traditional act of mourning where they stay in church overnight. We normally go on Saturday night as this is the true start of Greek Easter. Everyone gets given a white candle and just before midnight all the candles are lit. When the clock strikes 12 the priest shouts Christos Anesti (Christ has risen). For me this is a beautiful tradition that brings Greek communities everywhere, together. I find it very special to be a part of and look forward to it every year.
Greetings and Games
Almost anytime that you bump into a Greek during the period of Easter you will be greeted with the words ‘Christos Anesti’. Translated this means ‘Christ has risen’ and you respond with the words ‘Alithos Anesti’ which means ‘truly he has risen’. It is said to friends and family to wish them well for the upcoming year. You will only hear these sayings at Easter time. These also happen to be the words you say when you play the egg smashing game. Also known as Tsougrisma. With eggs that have been dyed red to represent the blood of Christ you and your component take turns in bumping the other persons egg. Whoever manages to crack both ends of their components egg first, wins a year of good luck!
Of course, a Greek Easter wouldn’t be Greek Easter without the Sunday feast. Traditionally you prepare a lamb or goat on the spit. This represents the lamb of God and it is served with all the trims – Potatoes, lots of vegetables and other classically Greek dishes like spanakopita (a spinach and feta filo pie) and Tsoureki (an Easter sweet bread). Our whole family sit down and enjoy this meal together.
My Favorite English traditions
Hot Crossed Buns
Hot crossed buns are quintessentially English and you only get them around Easter time. We all wait in anticipation for their arrival. Although there are a few ideas about how they came about no one really knows. Some people believe it was a monk in the 12thcentury who baked the buns to celebrate Easter and painted the cross on them as an ode to Christ. Others believe that the buns were used to ward off bad spirits and would be baked only on Good Friday and then hung about the house. Whatever the reason they were made they have cemented themselves in our minds as an Easter treat and my family and I love them!
Easter Eggs and Easter Egg Hunts
My kids love Easter egg hunts (who doesn’t) and we try to have one every year. The tradition of Easter egg hunts is somewhat unclear. People believe that this tradition, actually stemmed from the Dutch who believed in an egg laying hare named Oschter Haws. Young children were encouraged to build little nests for the hare to come and lay eggs in. Now a days the nests are represented by baskets and the reason the eggs are chocolate is to celebrate the end of lent a time where people give up certain pleasures.
Eggs became part of Easter due to what they symbolize – New life. It’s believed to have stemmed from a Pagan festival that celebrated spring. It is also understood by Christians that eggs represent Jesus’ resurrection. Eggs used to be painted in bright colors rather than be made of chocolate but that was hundreds of years ago and as we know things have changed since!
Every year I would host an afternoon Easter Tea once my kids and their friends had finished their Easter egg hunt. We would always try to do lots of delicious options. A chocolate cake with little hens and Easter eggs, always went down well. Another good option was rice crispy baskets. They are very simple to make and also very on theme. Fresh lemonades in yellow and pink are healthy and enticing to children. We would also serve crumpets and biscuits.
If you have any special traditions that you would like to share I would love to hear them?