For people of Greek Orthodox faith, Easter (or Pascha) is a significant time of year. Greek Easter follows the lunar calendar, and so often falls in a different week to the traditional Christian calendar for Easter. The week leading up to Easter is full of religious significance as well as some serious food prep! Greek Orthodox Australians enjoy these traditions to varying degrees at home and you may find some of us scouring Greek supermarkets in search of special ingredients. Or attending the special midnight service on Easter Saturday. For us here at Olympus Cheese, we connect with some of our long-standing Greek and Cypriot customers at this time to supply cheese and yoghurt for their Easter Sunday celebrations. We explain the traditions, and the foods, that make a Greek Easter unique.
Easter actually begins for Greek Orthodox Christians on Kathara Deutera, also known as Clean Monday. This day marks the first day of Lent, seven weeks prior to Easter Sunday. Lent is a Great Fast, lasting forty days. Fasting signifies the cleansing of the body and strengthening of the spirit, to prepare for the Resurrection during Easter. A traditional fast abstains from any animal products which have red blood. This includes meat, poultry, dairy eggs, fish and seafood with backbones and sometimes olive oil.
Many Greek Orthodox Australians still fast traditionally during Lent. Others may restrict a certain food, such as cheese or meat. Or they may not fast at all until Holy Week – from Palm Sunday one week prior to Easter. Fasting signifies the cleansing of the body and strengthening of the spirit, to prepare for the Resurrection during Easter.
What is Holy Week?
Holy Week beings on the Saturday of Lazarus and continues until Easter Sunday. During this week, the Church holds both morning and nighttime services. Each day holds a special significance on the Greek Orthodox calendar, reliving Jesus’ last days. Good Friday, or Holy Friday is a day of mourning on the Greek calendar. At nine o’clock there is often a symbolic funeral procession. Church bells ring for the mourning of Christ and his crucifixion. You can understand a little more about the Liturgical Meaning of Holy Week by visiting the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia’s website.
Great and Holy Saturday
Great and Holy Saturday commemorates the burial of Christ. A day of great waiting. Much of Saturday is spent preparing foods for Easter. There is a Church service on Saturday night and worshippers gather with candles. The room is dark and the air is very sombre. At midnight the priest announces into a darkened room “Christos Anesti”, which means Christ Has Risen. At this moment there is much celebration. Some churches even organise fireworks.
This event signifies the beginning of Easter Sunday. On this day, there are many special foods eaten in great celebration and festivity in homes across Australia. So what do we eat?
The meal to break the fast is most often Magirista or Mayiritsa, eaten right after the midnight church service. This is a traditional Greek soup made from lamb offal, lemon, dill, lettuce, rice with avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce). As a whole roasted lamb is usually cooked on Easter Sunday, this soup takes the leftover parts of the lamb to flavour this rich soup. This is the traditional Mediterranean way of using the whole animal, never wasting.
Greek and Cypriot communities often give the gift of Paschal eggs. These are eggs which we dye red, traditionally on Holy Thursday. On Easter Sunday, they are broken in a game called tsougrisma or they can be eaten hard boiled. They symbolise the blood and sacrifice of Christ.
In Cypriot households, the traditional bread eaten on Easter Sunday is Flaounes. Every household has a way of making Flaounes, and the recipe is usually handed down through the family. The recipe is a sweet pastry filled with halloumi cheese and other cheeses and often raisins. It includes a sweet spice called mahlepi which is made from ground cherry pits. The pastry contains a resin called mastic, which is made from the sap of a tree grown in the Mediterranean.
Making Flaounes is quite time consuming – it can take around 3 hours to make. In Australia it can also get expensive as ingredients are imported. Our Cypriot communities often come to us for unsalted halloumi to use in the bread. This year, a lovely customer had gifted us flaounes as a thank you (pictured above). We can’t wait to taste these delicious sweet breads on Easter Sunday. As is common in our communities, yiayia’s hold these amazing recipes, often committed to memory. We hope they continue to be passed down through generations.
Tsoureki is the Greek Easter bread, which is delicious plaited bread with a buttery texture similar to brioche. It is made with flour, milk, butter and sugar and is also made with mahlepi and the resin mastic. In addition, there may be orange zest, almonds, cinnamon or raisins to flavour. Sometimes, red eggs are used as decoration with the bread. Neos Kosmos shared the delicious tsoureki recipe for Easter Sunday, as well as a little more about our special Easter traditions.
Easter Sunday Feast
The celebratory meal is held on Easter Sunday usually for lunch with the whole family. It usually involves the centrepiece of spit-roasted roast lamb (Arni sthn Souvla) as well as traditional salads like Greek salad with fetta, halloumi salad, moussaka, and Easter biscuits like koularakia paschalina, kalisounia (Greek cheese pastries) and a delicious mezze platter including luscious foods like fig, cheeses, olives and fish.
Greek Orthodox Easter is all about family and enjoying good food together. From our family to yours, we hope you have a wonderful Easter. If you like, why not try some of our recipes using Olympus Cheese and Yoghurt, and enjoy your own Mediterranean feast this Sunday.
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