Food Traditions: Greek Easter Feasting
Easter Sunday is the most important day in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Whilst not all Greeks observe the religious elements of the holiday, most continue to get involved in the celebrations and enjoy the food traditions that have defined Easter festivities in Greece for centuries. We asked MasterChef Champion Irini Tzortzoglou to tell us how she celebrates Easter in Greece with family and friends.
When is easter celebrated in greece?
This year Easter Sunday falls on the 24th of April in the Orthodox calendar, but preparations and traditions begin long before this. It all starts before Lent when we eat pretty much all the dairy, meat, and fish we have in our fridge, to prepare for the ‘famine’ to come. This is followed by ‘Clean Monday’ (7th March), the first day of Lent, when huge parties are held, often outdoors in the early spring air, and a vast array of vegan and vegetarian dishes are prepared and eaten
“On Clean Monday huge parties are held, often outdoors in the early spring air, and a vast array of vegan and vegetarian dishes are prepared and eaten.”
Lent lasts for the Forty days leading up to Easter Sunday. The Friday before this is Good Friday when mainly raw vegetables are eaten. Then on Easter Saturday after ‘Christ Is Risen’ has been sung in the churches, those returning home break their fast with the traditional ‘love it or hate it’ magiritsa soup. Made with lamb offal pieces, the theory is the soup prepares the digestive system for the barrage of food that is to come on Easter Sunday.
How do you prepare the easter feast?
Preparations for the Sunday feast begin on Easter Saturday. I remember as a child being tortured by the aromas of all the sweet delicacies being baked that I couldn’t eat! The Greek Easter tsoureki bread, decorated with red eggs, is made in large quantities so that it can be enjoyed by the family but also given to friends, relatives, and neighbours.
“I remember as a child, being tortured by the aromas of all the sweet delicacies being baked!”
My favourite sweet Easter treat has to be the renowned Cretan kalitsounia or fanarakia or lychnarakia. Made with sweet pastry that is rolled out, cut into shapes, and filled with sweet, fresh mizithra cheese. Chopped mint or cinnamon is also added for extra flavour. The city patisserie shops are of course filled with Easter biscuits, chocolate bunnies, and all types of desserts and cakes to take as gifts when invited for Easter lunch.
what do you eat on easter sunday?
Finally, on Easter Sunday, all over Greece, lambs are roasted on a spit, more offal wrapped in intestines is also cooked on a spit and lots of dairy and other treats are served. The choice of lamb is supposed to represent Christ, the Holy Lamb of God. It is traditional that townspeople return to their home villages in the countryside to visit their families or celebrate Easter at their holiday homes, but always in large groups and with plenty of food and loud music.
“On Easter Sunday, all over Greece, lambs are roasted on a spit”
It is a wonderful time for children who can’t wait to go to church holding the beautiful, long, ornate candle gifted by their Godparents, set fire to the Judas pile of dried twigs, or, much to the horror of the adults, light hundreds of tiny throw bangers!
what are your favourite easter traditions?
Before the Easter weekend festivities, traditionally on Good Thursday, there is lots of fun to be had hard boiling eggs, dyeing them red, and decorating them with imagination and artistic flair to create beautiful patterns. The significance of this comes from the early Christians of Mesopotamia, who stained them with red colouring, in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at His crucifixion.
“Although the modern custom is to give chocolate eggs, in Greece we do both, observing tradition but getting our chocolate fix too.”
Red eggs have lots of different uses throughout the Easter holiday, we bake them into the Tsoureki bread, use them as beautiful table decorations and children even play a game with them! The game is called ‘Tsougrisma’, which means ‘clinking together’ or ‘clashing’ and involves two players trying to crack both the top and bottom of their opponent’s egg. It’s so much fun! Although the modern custom is to give chocolate eggs, in Greece we do both, observing tradition but getting our chocolate fix too.
cookalong with irini tzortzoglou
We’re excited to have our very own Greek MasterChef bringing her culinary magic to our Easter Cookalong on Thursday 14th April at 6pm. Irini will be cooking one of the most popular of all our Greek menus, Lamb Kleftiko & Braised Baby Gem with Avgolemono sauce. The event is completely free to join, all you need to do is order your recipe box before Monday 11th April at 4pm.