Monday, 29 April 2019

Having a cracking good time
at Easter in Crete this year

Easter eggs outside a house in Panormos, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Easter Monday in Greece and was a public holiday throughout Greece, with family celebrations and meals continuing throughout the day. Dyed eggs can be seen everywhere, in baskets and on tables outside houses, shops and restaurants and as decorations in hotel lobbies and on bar counters.

One Easter tradition that every visitor to Greece notices is the tradition of dying red Easter eggs as a symbol of Orthodox Easter. Although it is also quite common to dye eggs in other colours, Greek Easter is rarely or almost never celebrated without red eggs.

The red eggs embody a number of traditions:

1, The deep red dye symbolises the blood of Christ shed at his Passion and Crucifixion.

2, The hard shell symbolises the sealed tomb.

3, Cracking the egg symbolises Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Eggs are traditionally dyed red on Maundy or Holy Thursday, but this can be done on any day leading up to Sunday. They are the first food eaten after the strict fasting of Lent in some families, while others enjoy them after dinner when everyone is gathered around the table to play the game that involves cracking the eggs.

The first red egg that is dyed is considered to be the egg of the Virgin Mary and is saved in the home for protection against the evil eye until the next year when a new ‘first egg’ is dyed.

One tradition says Mary Magdalene was bringing cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb when the eggs in her basket miraculously turned brilliant red as she saw the risen Christ.

A different legend involves Mary Magdalene’s role in spreading the Gospel. According to this story, after the Ascension, she went to the Emperor of Rome and greeted him, saying ‘Christ is Risen!’ (Χριστός ἀνέστη!), which is still the traditional Greek greeting throughout the season of Easter. On hearing this, the Emperor pointed to an egg on his table and stated, ‘Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.’ Immediately the egg on his table turned blood red.

At big family feasts on Easter Day, family members crack their eggs together. One says Χριστός Ανέστη (Christos Anesti!, ‘Christ is risen!’), to which the other replies, Aληθώς Aνέστη (Alithos Anesti!, ‘He is risen indeed!’).

Eggs on a table in Panormos, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The egg-cracking game or τσούγκρισμα (tsougrisma) is an integral part of Easter celebrations and the person with the strongest egg that is not cracked is said the be blessed with good luck for the rest of the year.

Eggs are traditionally dyed red on Maundy or Holy Thursday, but this can be done on any day leading up to Sunday. They are the first food eaten after the strict fasting of Lent in some families, while others enjoy them after dinner when everyone is gathered around the table to play the game.

The first red egg that is dyed is considered to be the egg of the Virgin Mary and is saved in the home for protection against the evil eye until the next year when a new ‘first egg’ is dyed.

Many shops sell packets of blood-red dye. Since Greek Easter eggs are not just for celebration purposes, but they are also meant to be eaten.

After the egg-cracking is over, not a bit of the eggs is wasted. They are peeled, cut, and served with salt and vinegar. Some families make a small tray with the eggs along with leftover cold lamb, and other small pieces to be served with red wine or ouzo to guests who visit today (Easter Monday) or later in this week after Easter.

Easter candles in a shopfront in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Other family traditions at Easter include:

1, Tsoureki (Τσουρέκι): this delicious sweet Easter bread is a three-braid bread representing the Holy Trinity.

2, Easter candles: God-parents, favourite aunts and grandparents often buy special Easter candles for children with gifts attached to them with brightly-coloured ribbons.

3, Roasting Lamb: Families get together before noon on Easter Day to roast the lamb on a spit and join in a long lunch with lots of meat, potatoes, salads and drinks.

4, Magiritsa (Μαγειρίτσα): This dish contains the offal of the lamb just before it is roasted, along with some green vegetables (lettuce, dill and onion) boiled together. It symbolises the end of the 40-day fast in Lent.

The traditional Easter hymn still being sung throughout this week is:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

A decorative basket of multi-coloured dyed eggs in the hotel lobby at La Stella in Platanias, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

No comments: