Greek Easter is my favourite time of year – one when I recalibrate

Originally published on SBS.

I always look forward to Greek Easter, way more than my birthday. Christmas, too.

Greek Easter has always been a big calendar event in my family. Even as a third-generation Australian, it’s my favourite celebration. 

It’s a time when I reset, feel grounded and am most in touch with Greek culture. 

The first step is finding out when Greek Easter actually is. It is based on the Julian calendar and changes annually. Sometimes, it syncs with other Christian denominations’ Easter. Other times, it’s an entire month later.

There is a bit of structure to how my family celebrates Easter, and that routine means I know exactly what to look forward to every year. 

Many Greeks do some kind of fasting. Some people fast for 40 days. Others (including myself) fast for the week leading up to Easter Sunday. By fasting, I mean going (almost) vegan, which yes, can be a big deal for Greek people. 

During this week, I don’t have any products from animals with blood. The idea of this is to honour Jesus’ fast and to cleanse, in preparation for taking communion.

Contrary to popular belief, Greek cuisine is full of vegan recipes, and I encourage people who like Greek food or are travelling to Greece to look out for these. Some vegan dishes include fakes (a traditional, iron-packed lentil soup), gemista (baked vegetables stuffed with rice) and vlita (sauteed greens with lemon and oil).

Monday kicks off Greek Easter week. On this day, I stock up on vegan goodies, including plenty of fruit and vegetables, legumes and bread. I eat comforting vegetable soups, sandwiches and pasta. I’m extremely grateful coffee is still on the table.

Friday night church is when people come together and light a holy candle. Everyone walks around a block following the epitaph – a funeral monument dedicated to Jesus, which is adorned with flowers. It’s a night marked with a beautiful sense of unity.

Saturday morning is perhaps my favourite time of the week. Since I was four years old, I have made traditional Easter cheese pies from the island of Kos where my maternal grandmother (yiayia) was from. Mum and I would go to Yiayia’s house to make these, giving them out to family and friends. Our record is 90 cheese pies.

Yiayia has since passed away, and frankly the cheese pies do not taste the same anymore. They’re missing her love and that rebel-against-the-written-recipe touch many grandmas have. We have continued to make Easter cheese pies at my house. Last year, we used a mixer to make the dough since Yiayia is no longer here. I hope she’s okay with a little automation.  

Saturday night, it’s back to church just before midnight. When the clock strikes 12, we embrace our loved ones and say “Christ has risen”. Then, it’s back to Mum’s house to break the fast with a special soup. Traditional Greek Easter soup is called magiritsa (also spelt mageiritsa), a meat and vegetable soup with a base of egg and lemon. However, Mum, like many Greek people, omits the offal that’s traditionally included so more people eat it. She uses tender pieces of beef and lamb meat. Feeding more mouths is the goal, after all. 

After eating, the red-egg-cracking competition is on. The cracking symbolises Jesus’ resurrection and departure from his tomb. Everyone grabs a red egg and goes head-to-head with one person at a time, tapping the eggs against each other.

This continues as a game of knockout with everyone in the household. Whoever’s egg does not crack is said to have good luck for the year. I’ve had family members do all kinds of things to win, including placing their egg in the fridge for 48 hours to apparently harden.

The breaking of the feast gloriously continues on Sunday, where the extended family gets together and bonds over what is usually quite a bit of meat – often a lamb spit. It’s the perfect way to end a very busy week.

Lead image: Pxfuel.

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