My First Greek Easter
I have wonderful memories of the first time I spent Easter in Greece.
I was invited to spend the weekend with my boyfriend’s family. There was so much happening, lots of activity around the house preparing and celebrating the whole weekend. On Good Friday evening we went joined the crowds lining the streets of the town to watch the procession.
On Saturday morning, we went across the city to our friendly butcher to pick up the whole lamb that our family had ordered weeks earlier. That afternoon, the men prepared the lamb for the spit, ready to be cooked on Sunday. They seasoned it well with plenty of salt, pepper, oregano and olive oil. They then secured it onto the spit and covered it with baking paper. Later, they dug the hole in the ground where it was going to be cooked and prepared it with charcoal ready for the morning.
The women of the house were busy shopping for fresh food and vegetables ready for the Sunday meal. Back at the house, there was lots of tempting, mouth-watering aromas coming from the kitchen, home baked Easter cookies, Tsoureki – Easter Bread and other delicious snacks, as well as preparing Mayeritsa, the Easter Soup.
Late Saturday evening we all headed down to the church in the town square, it was packed. There was a sparkling atmosphere, everyone was happy and laughing, cheerful to be out at midnight, socialising and catching up with their neighbours. We all bought candles, thin, tall white candles with a little plastic scoop at the bottom to catch the dripping wax. At midnight, there was chanting coming from inside the church, the lights went out and slowly flickering candle lights started to spread through the crowd.
From one main candle in the church, that was then used to light the candles round them, and so it spread out as more people’s candles were lit and being lit. It was quite a touching moment! As the candles were lit, people would say Christos Anesti and the other would reply Alithos Anesti. After all this went on, everyone slowly walked home, chatting and cheerful, careful not to let our candles go out until we’d reached home, for good luck. It was quite a sight seeing hundreds of flickering candles making their way in the dark of night through the streets. At our house, one of the men used his candle to put a cross over the front door – the entrance to our house, to bring good luck to the house and all who lived there.
That night the family sat down to eat Mayeritsa, Easter soup. Traditionally it is eaten after midnight on Saturday, when the 40 days of lent has finished, and to prepare the stomach with a little meat before the big feast of lamb on Sunday. As I’d seen what went in it, I decided to pass! I felt my stomach would survive the onslaught of lamb the next day!
Sunday morning, the men got up bright and early to prepare the fire for the lamb. They started the fire, although it needed to burn down a fair bit before they could put the lamb over it, otherwise the lamb would burn before cooking through. Once that was ready the lamb on the spit was put on the stirrups and placed over the burning coals. Everyone took turns sitting by the fire and and slowly turning the spit. There’s something very comforting about sitting there by the fire embers, slowly turning the meat!
We had also made Kokoretsi
, another traditional food that is always cooked along with the lamb at Easter. That was also on another spit and was being turned at the same time. In the kitchen the women were busy preparing the rest of the food, a few salads, Tzatziki
There were many people invited to spend Easter with us, so we prepared and set a long table on the terrace looking out over the garden. Slowly, through the morning, family, friends and neighbours arrived. Other friends, passing through on their way elsewhere, dropped by to share a drink and wish everyone Happy Easter – Kalo Pascha.
Everyone arrived with arms full of gifts, either bottles of wine to share or a beautifully wrapped box of pastries or cakes from the best Zacharoplasteion
in town. Everyone who came by took their turn at sitting and turning the lamb for a while, like it was good luck.
Once the food was all ready and cooked, the long table filled up and suddenly there was food everywhere. Everyone was happy and talking - to people next to them, up the other end of the table or to anyone who was listening. It was loud, lively and fun! Wine flowed freely,
everyone pouring not just for themselves but topping up others as they went. It was the best time I’d ever had, the food was ambrosial, the meat was so tasty it just melted in the mouth, and there was plenty for everyone.
Later in the afternoon, the pastries and cakes were shared around. It was the most beautiful warm spring day and sitting there with this wonderful group of people who all accepted me as one of their own, with great food, drink and company which carried on all through the day and evening, I thought, it really doesn’t get much better than this!