Greek Orthodox Easter

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Easter is the most important and celebrated religious holiday in Greece. Having been born and having lived all my life in Greece, the Easter traditions are something I am used to and find ordinary.  Don’t get me wrong, spending the day with my family, breaking our red eggs, eating lamb and surely going to church the night before to light our candles are some of the things I look forward to greatly.  Easter also always takes place in the Spring, when delicate red poppy flowers have bloomed and when the Greek sun is usually shining beautifully. However, visiting Greece from another country, people always remark on how unique the experience is.  Whether you are lucky enough to visit during this holiday or not, I would like to share with you a little about this special holiday, as we Greeks traditionally celebrate it.

Close to midnight on Holy Saturday, families head to church in order to to watch the “Anastasi” or Resurrection mass. All the lights are turned off and the head priest comes outside and announces the resurrection of Christ in a very special, song like mass. Fireworks can be seen as well as loud fire crackers which sometimes can be a little frightful, but add to the whole experience.

Orthodox Easter Candle boys

People carry  un-lit candles which are usually decorated with various objects and designs which they light with the Holy Light transferred all the way from Jerusalem.  The people take the Holy Light back to their homes where they often create a cross from the flame on the door frame.

Upon returning home, some families choose to end their 40 days of lent (fasting) by eating a soup made from the lamb’s organs called “magiritsa.” Others, like myself, choose to go to sleep in order to be well rested for the next day full of dancing, music, lots of food and family events.

Red dyed eggs which are made or which can be found in any supermarket in Greece the week before Easter are placed on plates or baskets and are used in a game. Two players each hold a red egg and one lightly taps the end of his into the end of the other player’s egg.  The goal of this game is to crack the opponents egg. Whoever wins this game, against all other players, is the person who is said to have good luck during the year.

Breaking red eggs

When Easter lunch is served, the lamb on the spit takes center stage as the men of the house usually have spent the entire morning over the spit, turning it. Lamb is one of the most traditional aspects of this holiday. Lots of other dishes are placed on the table such as kokoretsi, spinach pie and oven cooked potatoes. 

Easter table

Desserts include “tsoureki” which is a sweet Easter bread, “koulourakia” which are butter cookies, “galaktoboureko” which is a custard filled phyllo pastry and much more, leaving us in a food coma after each Easter lunch.

Things you need to know about Easter in Greece:

You will eat A LOT- there is no way of avoiding it- so no tight clothes.

From midnight the day before and surely on Easter day you will hear people saying “Christos Anesti  meaning “Christ has Risen.” To that you should answer “Alithos Anesti” meaning “Truly, he has risen.”

Easter on the Islands is special, so if possible try to visit an island like Skiathos or Corfu where there are fascinating religious ceremonies that take place throughout Holy week.

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Now it is your turn to make an Easter treat which is actually a yummy snack all throughout the year!

Tsoureki_eggs

“Tsoureki” Traditional Greek Easter bread

INGREDIENTS

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

½ cup warm water

½ cup warm milk

4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

½ cup white sugar

2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for egg wash)

2 teaspoons salt

4-4 ½ cups unbleached flour

Grated rind of 1 orange

½ cup melted chocolate (optional)

Toasted almond slivers (optional)

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Chocolate Tsoureki

INSTRUCTIONS

Dissolve the yeast in ½ cup warm water, according to package instructions. Add a pinch of white sugar and set aside until the water is foamy (about 10 minutes).

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the flour, white sugar and salt.

Once the yeast is ready, add to the flour mixture along with the warm milk, melted butter, eggs and egg yolk, and orange rind.

Mix on low with the bread or hook attachment for 6-8 minutes (this is in place of kneading by hand).

Place the ball of dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 ½ – 2 hours.

Separate the dough into three pieces.

On a floured surface roll out each piece into a long rope, about 12 inches long. Line them up next to each other and braid just like braiding hair.

Braided tsoureki

Place the braided Tsoureki on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to rest for about 1 hour until it is puffy.

Before baking brush the Tsoureki with egg wash, and bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Optional: Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl, and drizzle over cooled Tsoureki. Top with toasted almond slivers.

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Recipe by Alexandra Salidas Roll our gracious Figs & Feta contributor!

As a free lance writer, Lydia’s passion for traveling and photography inspire her to create journals giving us a glimpse into her Greek travels. Also as our social media coordinator she will be sharing ideas and discoveries with us.

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