Kaló Páscha ...Happy Greek Easter!
May 02, 2013
As a young lad growing up in a Greek family, the celebration of Easter was an important event. However, I often wondered why followers of the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox faith celebrated Easter at a different time than the rest of the Christian world. (For more, check out Greek Americans by David Phillips.) I was simply told that we followed a different calendar. I eventually learned that we followed a modified Julian calendar, while the Western world used the Gregorian calendar. I enjoyed the day off from school, and I remember how difficult it was trying to explain to my school teachers that I really was attending Good Friday services at our church when the rest of my classmates and I already had the day off earlier for the same reason. (Watch the movie! Check out Greek Americans.) My mother realized a true savings since she was able to fill our Easter baskets with candies bought at half price since, as we called it then, American Easter had passed. This year approximately 250-300 million Orthodox Christian followers will be observing Easter on May 5. The Eastern Orthodox Church is the second largest Christian denomination.
Many customs and traditions are related to Easter, which is the most important and biggest celebration of the Orthodox Christians and the one richest in folklore. The word "Pascha," Easter in Greek, stems from the Jewish "Pasah" which means "Passover." Easter preparations begin with 40 days of strict fasting prior to Easter Day and the attendance of daily liturgies during Holy Week that leads up to Easter Sunday. Easter eggs are most often dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ and also represent the color of life. The message of the red eggs is victory over death. A game is also played with these red eggs. Each person takes an egg and attempts to crack someone else’s egg by rapping their egg against their friends' egg. The breaking of the eggs is meant to symbolize Christ breaking from the Tomb. It was always important to make sure that one used the pointed end of the egg against the other person’s pointed end and not the round end. (That would be cheating). The owner of the last uncracked egg is considered to be blessed with luck for the remainder of the year.
The Saturday before Easter, my mother would prepare a huge feast to feed our entire extended family, and many guests that would be invited to our house after the church service that would begin at 11:00 that evening. The smells of the roasting lamb and other Greek delicacies could literally drive us crazy since we were following a strict fast and not allowed to even taste a single morsel. We could not even sneak into the cookie jar to enjoy some of yia-yia’s (grandmothers) koulourakia (butter twist cookies). You can try some of these recipes yourself; get The Glorious Foods of Greece. It was quite a task to wait until church services ended at 2:30 a.m. to finally go home and indulge ourselves in the celebration of food. A song, not of Greek origin, from the musical Oliver pops into my head, "Food, Glorious Food." There are more recipes to try in Kokkari: Contemporary Greek Flavors.
The following resources can give you a more detailed picture of the Greek culture, the Greek faith, and the Greek foods that I enjoyed as a youth and now. Greeks have a great regard and love for all of the above. For more about Greek immigrants, try Small Bird, tell me: Stories of Greek Immigrants.
Platte City Branch