Easter is celebrated by millions of (mostly Christian) people around the globe, and, as is the case with many international holidays, each country has different customs. Greek Pascha (Easter) customs have always fascinated me because of their beauty and symbolism. Here are four Greek Orthodox Easter traditions that, if you celebrate Easter, you can easily integrate into your own festivities to add an international flair.
Dye Red Eggs
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, Easter eggs are dyed red to represent the blood and rebirth of Christ. These crimson beauties, called kokkina avga in Greek, are a mainstay at any Easter celebration. It may sound strange, but this traditional red color is achieved by dying the eggs using skins from yellow onions. Commercial red dyes are available in Greece, of course, but traditionalists stick to the onion method that produces a rich red hue beyond compare. You can try it at home using this dye recipe.
Play the Egg Cracking Game
Once those beautiful red eggs are dyed, you can’t eat them quite yet. First, you’ll have to win (or rather lose) traditional tsougrisma (egg tapping) game. Each player takes an egg and taps the end against the end of another player’s egg. The objective is to crack the other person’s egg, at which point that person gets to eat theirs and the winner moves on to the next opponent. The player who cracks all of the other players’ eggs is the winner – the prize is good luck for the coming year.
On the Saturday night before Easter morning, the Greek Orthodox tradition is to attend an evening service. In smaller villages, people light candles at home and carry them to the church. These colorful candles represent the resurrection of Christ. They range in size, shape and color – there are even candles made specifically for kids with special designs and featuring popular contemporary characters. Candles are used throughout the service, and more candles are lit at home as the celebration continues.
Tsoureki is a sweet dessert bread that is traditionally eaten at Easter in Greece. This rich, orange-flavored bread is as beautiful as it is delicious – braided and garnished with a red egg. The recipe calls for a spice called mahlab, which is made from the pits of wild cherries. If you’re interested in making it, here is a good recipe.