The Greek Easter Experience
It’s finally Easter! I know – I know, Easter was a few weeks ago but wouldn’t you want to have a second one? Those of you who said YES you are my kind of people and those of you who said NO I’ll give you a second chance 🙂
Catholic Easter might be over but Greek Orthodox Easter is on it’s way and I can name several reasons why one should celebrate Greek Easter.
1.Visiting Greece in Spring is a marvelous idea, first of all because Greek Spring is practically summer so you’ll have the opportunity for an early summer vacation and if you combine that with the Greek Easter festivities be ready for an experience of a lifetime!
2.To put it in pop culture terms, for the Greek community Easter is like Kings day with the Football World Cup – packed into one tremendous celebration. In fact, Easter is the most important holiday for the Greeks.
3.Compared to Western Easter, Greek Easter is in no way commercialized by chocolate, Easter bunnies or pastel colors. Rather, it is a festivity deeply rooted in tradition, filled with family activities and gatherings, emotions, lamb and red dyed eggs.
How to Celebrate Greek Easter
Open a Greek map, close your eyes and point with your finger on a location. Jump on a plane and be prepared for an amazing experience. The smaller the town or the island you choose, the higher the chances to experience something unique. If you do not feel very adventurous, and prefer to know in advance what you are getting, there are a couple of places around the country that Greeks themselves prefer for the Easter Season. For those who want monumental festivities with large crowd gatherings and fireworks, Corfu and Chios are the places to be. If what you are looking for is more on the relaxing and spiritual side of the celebrations, Patmos and Monemvasia are excellent choices.
Not all of us will be able to travel to Greece, especially this year with all the restrictions due to the pandemic that has changed our lives. Do not despair, there are still ways to celebrate the Greek Easter no matter where you are. Spot the Greeks in your community and ask them how they are spending Easter locally. It may not be as spectacular as it is back home, but you will be able to get a glimpse of the Greek Easter and most importantly, acces the really amazing food that is served for the occasion.
The Sweet Bread (Tsoureki) We are all familiar with Easter baking and from a small research I made, it seems that a version of sweet bread can be found all around the world. So what’s so special about Tsoureki? – Flavor and aroma! What’s the secret? a spice called mahlab used in sweet bread along with cardamom or mastiha and a few more ingredients, giving a divine texture and scent which makes it irresistible.
Dyed Eggs. It is difficult to trace back when or why the tradition of dyeing eggs started, but it is a common practice for centuries. For the Greek Easter, eggs are dyed red to symbolize the colour of blood and hardboiled to symbolize the rocks that sealed the tomb of Christ. Though colour is defined by tradition, the whole family is involved in the process and in many cases, natural ingredients are used to dye the eggs, such as red onion peel, and small flowers or leaves are used as stencils for a more creative and artistic touch.
The Egg Tapping Custom
Egg tapping, or also known as egg fight, is a traditional Easter game called “tsougrisma” in Greek, taking place on Easter Sunday when the whole family is gathered for the festive meal. The goal is to crack the opponent’s egg. The player who successfully cracks the eggs of all other players is declared the winner. The cracking of the egg shell symbolizes the victory of life over death and the beginning of new life.
*Tip : The smaller and more pointy the egg the better your chances to be the winner 😉
Late Saturday Night Dinner – The Agape Meal
The agape meal is one of the most unique meals of the year since it is the only one that takes place after midnight! For me it includes sharing beautiful moments and amazing food with family and loved ones. Delirium tends to set in at the agape meal, since Easter creates this tangible feeling of frenzy in the air filled with love, gratitude and laughter. While eggs and lots of mezes and traditional dairy products are consumed during the agape meal, a special soup called “magiritsa” is the star of the night.
Eat your soup – Magiritsa
Traditionally Magiritsa soup is the appropriate dish to break the 49 days Lent period and ease your digestive system back into eating dairy and meat again. Rich in texture and flavors, magiritsa is a unique soup made from lamb offal and green lettuce, garnished with fresh herbs and finished off with a delicious egg lemon sauce (Avgolemono). I know that a lot of you wouldn’t eat lamb liver in a soup but as Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods said –
“if you are going to eat intestines and liver only once in your life, let a Greek cook them for you”.
Easter Sunday Meal
Easter Sunday is the day of the big feast. Friends and family gather to celebrate and everyone is up early in the morning to prepare for the Easter Feast which usually lasts the entire day with food, wine, music, and lots of dancing.
The table is set outdoors from 10 o’clock in the morning serving sweet bread to accompany your coffee only to be replaced around noon by egg salad and other meze dishes to accompany your ouzo or tsipouro. Appetizers keep coming and coming until the main dinner is served early in the afternoon. No Greek will deny you a place at his table. If you happen to pass by a Greek house that day and see a festive group of people gathered around a table, don’t hesitate to stop and greet them by saying “Christos Anesti”, meaning Christ is Risen. I bet you’ll end up dining with them 😉
1. The Meat
Whole, spit-roasted lamb or goat may be the most popular meat consumed over the main course but in some cases, local tradition calls for different meats such as Kleftiko (slowly baked pork), or different recipes of good quality meat.
2. The absolute Easter meze – Kokoretsi
Nothing is wasted on the Easter table, and so Greeks have long savored plenty of offal as part of the traditional feast. The best known offal dish is the Kokoretsi, a kind of large sausage, seasoned to perfection and usually roasted on a spit but sometimes oven-roasted. Kokoretsi is one of these things you must try at least once in your life. Its deliciousness is beyond any words.
3. The necessary sauce – Tzatziki
You can’t have Easter feast without tzatziki. It is the absolute dip – sauce to accompany roast lamb or any other meat. Made with Greek yogurt, garlic, cucumber and fresh herbs, tzatziki brings freshness in a rather heavy meal.
4. The extras
Salad. You’ve got to have salad with every meal and this particular meal calls for a fresh salad with a light dressing. Choose between Choriatiki (the world famous Greek salad) or the Greek green salad which is a combination of fresh green leaves such as lettuce, herbs (dill, wild mint) and finely chopped spring onions, with some fresh feta cheese chunks and a light lemony vinaigrette. You will be amazed with how salad works with tzatziki and roast lamb!
Potatoes. Oven roasted with herbs and lemon is what the Greeks usually go for and who can blame them? This recipe is already popular worldwide and for a good reason!
Greek Easter is not only about food, it’s an experience. It is impossible to describe the whole essence of it in one text. It is a combination of emotions, traditions, nature and beautiful moments with loved ones. You don’t need to be religious in order to fully enjoy it. Greek Easter is actually a celebration of the spring and holds the meaning of new beginnings. Experience it at least once in your life and I am pretty sure you will fall in love with it. We may not be able to travel to Greece this year, but we can definitely take a small taste of it wherever we are.
Now if you are onboard for the Greek Easter, do not hesitate to ask your greek friends, “How are you celebrating Easter this year?”, and join them.
Happy Greek Easter everyone and Kali Orexi!