Read: The Joys of Greek Easter
Once every few years, Greek Easter falls the same week as “American Easter,” as it was called when I was growing up. In order for “Greek Easter” to be celebrated the same week as “American Easter”, Passover has to have been celebrated already. We Greeks don’t do Easter until after Passover, because how can you have Easter before Passover? Jesus went to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, after all. Unless it is one of the years where the two holidays align. Like this year.
Here are some of the things that non-Greeks may not know about Greek Easter: We don’t do bunnies. We don’t do chocolate. We don’t do pastels. We do do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulorakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red.
There is no Easter egg hunt. There is a game where you crack your red egg against someone else’s red egg hoping to have the strongest egg, which would indicate you getting a lot of good luck.
Holy Week, for a Greek Orthodox, means you clear your calendar; you don’t make plans for that week at all because you will be in church everyday, and you fast. Last year, in addition to not eating red meat and dairy before communion, my family also gave up sodas for the 40 day Lenten period. During one particularly stressful moment, there were many phone calls amongst our kids as to whether or not a canned drink called TING, made with grapefruit juice and carbonated water was, in fact, a soda and not a juice, which our then 10 year old decided it was, so we had a Ting-less Lent.
No matter where I find my self in the world I never miss Easter, or as we call it, Pascha. I have celebrated in Paris, London, New York City, Los Angeles, and in Salinas, California at a small humble church that was pure and simple.
When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children, to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which represents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with thousands of glorious flowers, rose petals and scents like incense.
Note: This was originally posted last year in the Washington Post under the title: Why Easter is Greek to Me: Xristos Anesti!