This year Easter will be observed on April 4, 2010 by both the Western & Orthodox Churches.
Easter is observed by the churches of the West on the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or following the spring equinox (March 21). Easter is a "movable" feast which can occur as early as March 22 or as late as April 25.
Note: Easter will fall on the following days in the next 5 years. See chart at end of page!
While the Easter date is the most commonly debated difference, there are many other differences from the timing and content of the Easter Mass to traditional foods served at Easter.
I won’t bore you with history of the church, the Julian and Gregorian calendars, or make any unnecessary remarks about the pagan origin of this holiday; but I will tell you about how I grew up celebrating Easter with my Greek Grandparents!
It all starts approximately 40 days before Easter Sunday with a celebration for the “cleansing” of the soul. This day always falls on a Monday and is referred to as Clean Monday and everyone partakes in a Fasting that commences the Lent period.
On Clean Monday families & friends gather together to celebrate this very festive day by enjoying the bountiful outdoors. By this time of the year the almond trees & the mimosas are blooming and children are flying paper kites from the hilltops. Many stay outside for picnics or eat the fasting cuisine served at tavernas!
Some of these foods include octopus, calamari & squid, cuttlefish stewed in wine, rice pilaf, a variety of stewed beans, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), flat bread (without yeast), fish roe dip called taramosalata, olives, and treats like halva, a semolina pudding. This type of feasting is an all day experience and is accompanied by joyous music
During the following weeks of Lent we are asked to reflect on our behavior & our intentions, think about repentance & almsgiving, and most of all do some deep soul searching. The meditative state of finding peace within ourselves is furthered along by the act of fasting (as do monks and sages of other religions).
One activity I recall fondly from my youth was the Dyeing of the Eggs, usually on Holy Thursday (final week of Lent). The eggs were not colored in bright happy tones but instead were given a dark red coloring to represent the blood of Christ. One 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.
Note: There is a beautiful story that explains how poppies got their ruby red color. Back in those days these white wild flowers grew in abundance in the countryside and on hilltops. At the time of the Crucifixion these poppies were stained with Christ’s blood. Such was their sorrow that from that day forth they always come back red in remembrance of this event!
Another event I remember distinctly was the Lament of Christ’s Death. This always took place on Good Friday and our neighborhood church would “symbolically” prepare the body for the burial ritual. The huge icon of Christ on the Cross would be taken down, then wrapped in linen and then placed in the casket. This was called the Epitaph (the grave) which was adorned with while lilies, carnations and flower petals.
During this day all the homes & government buildings will lower their flags to half mast and the church bells ring solemnly to mark the mournful day. In the evening the coffin is carried throughout the streets in a procession with hundreds of followers mourning and walking behind the Epitaph holding lit tan-colored candles.
On Saturday morning, the Epitaph is on display at the church for all followers who didn’t get to see it the night before. This is a time when all are welcome to venerate the Christ and ask for forgiveness. It is after all the reason he sacrificed himself…
By 11 p.m. on Saturday night everyone gathers outside the church and waits for the midnight Resurrection mass to begin. There is great anticipation as they all wait to receive the Holy Light from the church to light their white candles.
Note: The Holy Flame is received ONLY by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in the Holy Land, who descends into the Holy Sepulcher (Christ’s tomb), where the flame appears spontaneously as miraculous proof that Christ has not forgotten his followers.
Once everyone receives the flame they begin to hug & give joyful blessings to one another, exclaiming “Christ has Risen!” “Truly, He is Risen”. As a child, I didn’t really know what they were saying but I do remember really liking that kind of fellowship!
When we returned to our home, the sign of the cross was made with the smoke of our candle at the top of the door frame. This symbolized that our home had received the Holy Flame as well as the Christ’s protection. Our door frame had many visible crosses on it! ***look closely over the doorway!
On Easter Sunday there’s a very festive atmosphere among family, friends and neighbors as they all participate in the “traditional” roasting of the lamb(s) over a charcoal pit. While the lamb is being roasted and the tables being set, there’s a fun egg cracking tradition that we all do which can be compared to the American Thanksgiving wishbone tradition. The goal is to challenge someone to crack or break your egg. The person whose egg cracks last (or no cracks) is considered to have good luck for the rest of the year!
Did You Know? The egg is a symbol of Resurrection, representing the emergence of Christ from His tomb to everlasting life.
Our Easter Sundays usually consisted of a lot of “village” wine and retsina and many times ouzo too. Lamb meat was the primary dish but we also had a variety of cheeses, lots of greens and salad dishes, variety of Easter breads, cakes & cookies, seafood, grilled vegetables, kokoretsi and LOTS of eggs!!!
With good food, good wine and good company we would feast all afternoon and into the late evening hours. When the mood was right we’d also play music and occasionally our elders would dance the “Tsamikos”, a traditional folk dance to honor & remember our cultural roots.
I can still smell & taste those Easter Sundays. They were a part of my childhood and to this day I crave some of that Tsoureki (sweet Easter bread) I used to eat at my yiayia’s house!
TSOUREKI (Greek Easter Bread)
This braided bread recipe has its origins in the Byzantine Era.
2-7 gram Packets Active Dry Yeast
2 cups Warm Milk
9 to 10 cups All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
2 tsp. Makhlepi (Optional; essence drawn from the seeds of Mediterranean wild cherries)
8 Tbs. Butter; Melted and Cooled
6 Eggs; 1 Lightly Beaten
1 tsp. Salt
1 Tbs. Grated Orange Rind (Zest)
1 Tbs. Grated Lemon Rind (Zest)
2 Hard-Cooked Red-Dyed Eggs (Optional)
2 Tbs. Black Cumin Seeds
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warmed milk. Stir in 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup sugar, cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 1-hour. Steep makhlepi (if utilizing) in 1/2 cup simmering water for about 5-minutes. Strain mixture and discard seeds. Set remaining liquid aside to cool.
Stir 1/2 cup water or makhlepi-scented liquid into the yeast mixture. Add butter and 5 eggs and thoroughly combine. Sift in 8 cups of flour, salt and remaining sugar into bread mixture. Add salt, orange and lemon zest, and mix thoroughly with a large wooden spoon. Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth, approximately 10-minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the dough with a clean dish towel and set aside to raise for about 2-hours.
Return dough to the floured surface. Divide the dough into 6-equal parts and roll into ropes about 15-inches long. For each loaf, loosely braid 3 ropes, turn under ends and press 1 dyed egg (optional) near one end of each braid. Set bread aside to rise again for at least 1-hour on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
Pre-heat oven to 350° F/ 180° C degrees. Brush bread with remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with black cumin seeds. Bake until golden, approximately 40 to 50-minutes. Store cooled bread in an airtight container or serve warm.
- Easter 2011
Ash Wednesday is 09 March
Palm Sunday is 17 April
Good Friday is 22 April
(Western) Easter Sunday is 24 April
(Orthodox) Easter Sunday is 24 April
- Easter 2012
Ash Wednesday is 22 February
Palm Sunday is 01 April
Good Friday is 06 April
(Western) Easter Sunday is 08 April
(Orthodox) Easter Sunday is 15 April
- Easter 2013
Ash Wednesday is 13 February
Palm Sunday is 24 March
Good Friday is 29 March
(Western) Easter Sunday is 31 March
(Orthodox) Easter Sunday is 05 May
- Easter 2014
Ash Wednesday is 05 March
Palm Sunday is 13 April
Good Friday is 18 April
(Western) Easter Sunday is 20 April
(Orthodox) Easter Sunday is 20 April
- Easter 2015
Ash Wednesday is 18 February
Palm Sunday is 29 March
Good Friday is 03 April
(Western) Easter Sunday is 05 April
(Orthodox) Easter Sunday is 12 April
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