It’s finally Easter! I know – I know, Easter was about a month 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 Orthodox Easter is on it’s way! Now I’m not suggesting you should redecorate your home or dye eggs again, but taking a short spring holiday in a country where Orthodox Easter is celebrated would be an excellent idea and with Greece being number one on the list this gets better and better!
Easter is one of my favorite time to be in Greece for a couple of reasons. Even if you are not a devout Christian you can’t help but be moved by the spectacular ceremonies and festivities and the beauty of the Mediterranean Spring. In the countryside wildflowers are in bloom and life seems to be popping and sprouting up from every crack and crevice. Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit because let’s face it, Spring in Greece is practically Summer! So now that you’re on board let me tell you what’s on the menu…
Saturday of Lazarus and Palm Sunday
The custom of Lazarus (Lazarina) is celebrated on the Saturday before the Holy Week. According to the custom, on the Saturday of Lazarus, groups of girls wander from house to house baring baskets decorated with fresh flowers singing the Carols of Lazarus spreading the message that Easter is coming. The housewives offer the children treats, money, eggs etc. in return.When the group leaves a house, the housewife throws a glass of water outside her doorstep, a move that symbolizes the mild rains of April.
Next day is Palm Sunday and many churches hold special services that involve distributing palms to the congregation. Branches of olive or bay are used in places where palms are not available and are later hung up in houses for good luck. A festive meal with fish and sea food follows with ouzo, cod fish and garlic dip being on the top of the list.
We are all familiar with Easter baking and from a small research I made it seems that a version of sweet bread and Easter cookies can be found all around the world. So what’s so special about Greek Easter sweet bread and cookies? – Flavor and aroma! What’s the secret? a spice called mahlab used in sweet bread along with cardamon and a few more ingredients, giving a divine texture and scent which makes it irresistible. As for the cookies…fresh butter and lemon zest make all the difference. Official baking days are Holy Tuesday (cookies) and Holy Wednesday (sweet bread).
Try the best tsoureki (sweet bread) recipe by my favorite Greek chef Akis and I’m sure you will fall in love with it (and probably him). As for those lovely lemony-buttery cookies you should try Tanya’s family recipe which I find absolutely perfect! As a personal touch I add a hint of pure vanilla extract because I find the combination irresistible!
The Epitaphios in Good Friday
One of the greater traditions to experience during Greek Easter is the Epitaph and its litany on Good Friday, which is the saddest day for Christians, a day of absolute fasting and no work. The Church mourns the death and burial of Christ. Housewives usually do not do any housework on that day avoiding even cooking. Instead, women and children go to church and decorate the Epitaph with flowers they either buy or pick from their own gardens. Don’t hesitate to take part on the decoration procedure, it is considered to be a blessing specially for young women. In the evening, the Epitaph procession takes place across the country and the faithful follow the litany chanting hymns and holding candles made from bee’s wax. When the litany is over, as it is practiced after all “funerals” in Greece, people gather around tables to drink and eat specially made small food bites to honor the soul of the dead.
Don’t let the mourning feeling of Good Friday spoil your mood because resurrection will follow soon with the magnificent joyous festivities and the legendary Easter feasts!
To be continued…