A tale of two Easters - Part 2

Easter Monday (Deutera tou Pascha) is a national holiday in Greece, but here in Australia it was business as usual and back to work, albeit with a lunch box of delicious leftovers. After a wonderful weekend celebrating Greek Easter with family, I thought I would share with you in this post some of the traditional customs associated with Greek Easter – as well as a few delicious essentials on the Greek Easter shared family table. 
Easter in Greece (Pascha) is the biggest holiday of the year. It usually falls one week after “western” (Catholic and Protestant Easter), but about every four years it falls on the same date. For us in Australia, the spirit and energy around Pascha is very similar to what we often experience around Christmas time, with the coming of summer and many celebrations and traditions. However, for Greek people Pascha, which falls during spring in Greece is even more important than Christmas.

Kokkina agva - red eggs

Preparations for Greek Easter begin on the Thursday of Holy Week, the day is called Megali Pempti. Easter bread, called tsoureki is baked and kokkina agva (red eggs) are made. Traditionally, eggs were only dyed red to symbolise Christ’s blood, but it is now very common to see a range of different coloured eggs – the dyes and crates of ready coloured eggs can often be bought from Greek bakeries and patisseries as well as butchers. Dyeing the eggs is really very simple to do and if you prefer you can use all natural dyes such as beetroot (a very traditional option – used for generations before dyes became widely available) to get a really beautiful deep magenta red colour.
My eggs all ready to be dyed red & the "Philip" dye I purchased from Trianon Cakes in Earlwood
This year (although I ended up dyeing my eggs on Saturday – as I was running a few days behind) my eggs turned out quite well. Although, I have to share with you my experience from last year, which was a bit of a disaster. Instead of allowing the eggs to cool separately in the dye mixture away from the heat, I thought I would speed up the process and whack they dye into water while the eggs were boiling – the result was a massive splatter of red dye all over our white kitchen. Alfred Hitchcock could have used it as a set if Alice Tolkas' book, “Murder in the Kitchen” was ever made into a screen play. Anyhow, I digress. Here is the simple (and mess free) way of getting a great batch of Kokkina Avga (red eggs):

Kokkina Avga

12 eggs, at room temperature

1 packet of the "Philip" dye 

1.5 litres of warm water

1/2 cup of white vinegar
Olive oil, to grease

1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook, until hard boiled (around 8 - 10 minutes). Drain and leave to dry on paper towels.

2. Place dye powder and 1 cup of the warm water in a large glass bowl and stir until dye dissolves. Add vinegar and the rest of the warm water, mix well. 

3. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the dye and set aside to soak. You can leave them in the dye for about 10 minutes - if you are working on other things at the same time, they are ok to leave in there for a longer period. 

4. Transfer the eggs to a plate and set aside to dry. Once dry, place a little oil on paper towel and carefully polish each egg until they are nice and shiny. 

My shiny little red eggs, all ready to be carefully placed in the Tsoureki

If you have ever been into a Greek home, you will often see a corner or a wall filled with Icons. The icons are usually of the Saints’ whose names are in the family. Since it is a strong Greek tradition for newborn children to be named after their grandparents – it is also very common to see the same icons across a group of family homes. On our last trip to Greece, Mr K and I visited his uncle’s home. It was in a little village in the Peloponnese, where his family have lived for many, many generations. My husband is named after his Grandfather and in the cellar under his uncle’s house, protecting the barrels of family made olive oil and wine was his grandfather’s icon – glowing brightly out from the whitewashed walls. A very touching moment, given that my husband never got the chance to meet his Grandfather. In terms of Easter traditions, the corner of the family home holding the icons (known as the iconostasis) is particularly important, as tradition dictates that the very first egg to be dyed red should be placed on the iconostasis to keep evil away.

My first dyed red egg was placed with our small collection of family icons 

Another custom involving the red eggs occurs on Easter Monday, where it is common for family to visit cemeteries and place red eggs, Easter bread and biscuits on the graves of family members so that they can share in the Easter celebrations.  

Tsoureki - Greek Easter Bread

Along with the red eggs, Easter biscuits and tsoureki (also sometimes known as Lampropsomo or lamprokouloura are made. Traditionally, these goodies would go into Koumpari (Easter baskets) which are made by mothers and children for their Godparents. There is also a tradition that newly married women also offered Easter bread to their parents in law. Coming up to my second wedding anniversary – and my second Easter with Mr K’s family, I thought it would be nice to follow this tradition and make a tsoureki for Ma.
After rolling out three pieces of dough, I carefully braided the dough and joined it into a crown, leaving it to rest before adding an egg wash, the red eggs and placing it in the oven
Tsoureki is a sweet, brioche like bread.  Depending on the region of Greece, it can be made with mastic or mahlepi or both. Once braided, the dough is shaped into a circle or wreath and the red eggs are placed in the loaf. Some recipes also include sprinking the loaf with sesame seeds before cooking. This year I decided to use the very excellent tsoureki recipe in SBS Feast Magazine, Issue 8. The recipe included mahlepi and also lots of orange zest. In choosing a recipe to follow I have to admit I was swayed by the orange zest – simply because I love the combination of orange and chocolate. You are probably thinking, there is no chocolate in a tsoureki – and you would be right. However, my guilty little pleasure is taking the left over tsourkei, toasting it and slathering it in nutella. So good!!!
My tsoureki fresh from the oven and ready to place in an Easter basket
This recipe was super easy to follow and the results were excellent. When I presented my little Easter basket to Ma – with the tsoureki surrounded by lots of little gold eggs – she was absolutely beaming! On tasting the tsourkei, Ma was equally as pleased! Thank you SBS Feast magazine!!
While I was busy making up the tsourkei, Ma and my lovely sister in law, niece and nephew were busy making Koulourakia (Greek Easter biscuits). These yummy little morsels are a hand shaped, butter-based pastry with soft notes of vanilla and sometimes aniseed. Most commonly, the biscuits are shaped into crowns or rings but sometimes they are braided or shaped into a snake style.
Returning to the Easter traditions, once the eggs are dyed and the tsoureki and Easter biscuits are made, it is time for Church. On Holy Thursday night many women dress in black mourning clothes as the service is symbolic of Christ’s death. In some villages in Greece women will actually spend the night in the Church, saying prayers until the next day.

Ma's Easter basket filled with delicious koulourakia and tsoureki

Megali Paraskevi - Good Friday

Mourning continues on Good Friday and traditionally no work or cooking should be undertaken.  If some cooking is done, it is usually very, very simple food such as a legume soup and no oil is added.

In the evening, everyone heads to the church and there is a procession through the streets following the Epitaphio, which has been heavily decorated with flowers. Everyone carries lighted candles to symbolise a procession of mourners at a funeral. After the procession returns to the church, everyone kisses the Epitaphio and then walks under it. 

Megalo Savato - Great Saturday

During the day on Great Saturday, preparations begin for the Sunday feast.  At her home, early in the morning Ma started preparing the traditional mayiritsa soup, ready to be eaten after the midnight service to break the fast. Traditional mayiritsa soup is not for the faint hearted as it is made mainly from intestines and other offal such as kid liver, heart, lungs, and other organs as well as lots of lemon, rice and dill.
With Ma taking care of the insides of the baby goat, at our home, Mr K started marinating the whole baby goat in a mixture of lemon, bay leaves, garlic, rigani and parsley in readiness for roasting on the spit the next day. 
Mr K's essential ingredients to marinate the baby goat. 
At midnight, everyone gathers at the Church and are dressed up to the nines. The crowds are huge! Traditionally in Greek villages, families would buy new outfits only at Easter and Christmas. While that tradition has gone by the by, it is still the case that many families buy new outfits and shoes for Easter to wear to Church – at our local Greek church everyone looked exceptionally glamorous.
The crowds gathering outside of the Church at midnight, just before all of the lights were extinguished.
As well as new clothes, everyone also comes to Church either with, or buys at the church, a white candle.  Traditionally, godparents or parents buy children a candle to take to the service and these are often very colourfully decorated.
Shortly before midnight, all of the lights are turned off and the only light in the Church is the Eternal Flame on the altar. At midnight, the Priest chants "Christos Anesti" and he passes the flame to the persons nearest to him. Person by person, the flame is then passed through the church and out to the crowds on the street. At this point traditional Easter wishes are offered, you say “Christos Anesti” and the response is “Alithos Anesti” and kisses are exchanged. In Mr K’s case, after I replied “Alithos Anesti” I got a bonus reply this year, of a very sweet, “that’s correct!”
Our candles at midnight, which were carefully carried home to mark a cross above the door
In Australia, all of the lights around the Church are turned back on at this point, but if you are in Greece you get the added bonus of a good round of fireworks and lots of noise!!
Following the church service, everyone returns home to Ma’s with the candles from the church and  we break the fast with a bowl of mayiritsa soup (or if you are a bit squeamish you can always substitute chicken soup with egg and lemon sauce, or a mock version of mayiritsa using lamb meat and bones). The candles are placed on the table during the meal and are used to light other candles around the family icons.
Ma's traditional mayiritsa soup, it was the first time I have tasted it and it was really delicious with lots of lovely lemon and herb flavours
After a big bowl of soup, we head home and carry a little lantern given to us by Ma that has been lit with the candles from the church. Before heading in the door, Mr K makes the sign of the cross on the door frame in smoke. This is to keep good luck in our home for the coming year and we will have a little black cross above the door to remind us when we come home each night.

Pascha - Easter Sunday

Early in the morning, hubby gets to work setting the marinated baby goat on the spit.  The tradition of having a roasted lamb or goat on the Easter table is to represent the Lamb of God.
Mr K's delicious spit roasted goat,  he always says it is best straight from the spit and he always offers everyone lots of little tastings of the crispy garlic flavoured goat, just as it is nearly ready 
In the early afternoon, all of the family gathers around Ma’s table which has been covered with a beautiful embroidered cloth and her lovely gold edged plates. In the centre of the table is a beautiful big red basket full of red eggs.
Ma's beautiful, richly coloured red eggs
Ma has made lots of delicious accompaniments, including lemon roasted potatoes, horiatki salata and maroulosalata, a crisp Cos lettuce salad with spring onions and fine slices of radishes. There are home cured olives on the table and large wedges of creamy, tangy feta cheese.  My brother in law passes around some lovely crisp beers and Mr K opens some red wine. For dessert we nibble on the Easter bread and biscuits with little cups of thick, mildly sweet Greek coffee. 
Ma's tasty lemon potatoes straight from the oven 
After lunch we play ‘Tsoungrisma’ (meaning clinking together) which involves picking your egg of choice from the basket, holding it in your first and clinking the ends of your egg against each others eggs. The winner is the one person whose egg survives intact. Ba has a good shot at being the winner, but once again my gorgeous young nephew is declared the winner. I seem to recall he won last year as well - if he wins next year, I might well suspect him of hiding a wooden red egg in the basket! 

After playing Tsoungrisma we enjoy a lovely long chat. We talk history, we talk life. I take some photos of my parents in laws beautiful wedding photos from the 1950s, to be proudly framed and placed on the mantle of our fireplace at home. My nieces and nephews challenge their Papou to a game of backgammon and then the house is filled with the shrieks and giggles of hide and seek, as the children play in Ba's beautiful garden, which is brimming with the best of the season.  
Ba's incredible garden 
As evening falls, we head home. I think about the beautiful weekend we had for western Easter with my gorgeous family and I feel really quite blessed. I tell Mr K that I really feel doubly blessed to have become a part of such a beautiful, generous warm and open hearted family that cherishes its rich tradition and culture. I can't wait for Easter next year. 


  1. Mrs Mulberry, thank you for taking us along to your Greek Easter. The photos and words are wonderfully evocative :)

  2. Thanks so much Lorraine, really appreciate your lovely comments : )


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