Time for a history/religion lesson kids!
I’m gonna put a lot of info into this one, because this is something I think most people don’t know a whole lot about. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to know things. And this is by far my favourite religious holiday. So here ya go!
This weekend, for me, is Easter. “Whaaaat?” you ask, I thought Easter was last weekend! Well it was, for you, but not for me! Easter for the Orthodox is calculated based on the Julian calendar, and must ALWAYS fall after the Jewish Passover. Every 4 years, the dates sync up, and there is one glorious Easter celebration for all.
Easter is THE biggest, most important holiday for the Orthodox. Which makes sense. It’s kinda the basis of Christianity.
So, that being said, there are a TON of traditions that go along with the holiday, and I won’t describe them all. I’m gonna concentrate on Thursday-Sunday of the weekend of Easter.
Thursday – The Crucifiction. In church, they have a big cross, and a cardboard cut-out of Jesus. They use these to essentially act out the story of Jesus’ crucifiction. So, on this day, the take cardboard Jesus and put him up on the cross. And there he stays until…
Good Friday – On this day, according to the Bible, Jesus died and was laid in a tomb. So, they take cardboard Jesus off the cross, and lay him in his “tomb”. Now, the tomb is no cave. It is a very elaborate, beautiful structure, called an Epitaphio, that is decorated each year by the people who work at the church. It looks something like this:
During the service, everyone has the opportunity to go up, do their cross and crawl under the Epitaphio. I’ll be totally honest, I don’t know what this symbolizes, and I can’t find it online. I asked my mom and she’s not sure either, but she thinks it represents the protection given to humanity through Jesus’ death. Also during this service, the epitaphio is taken outside, and the whole congregation follows with lit candles as is walked through the streets. It’s quite a sight to see this, and I know that in Hamilton there are people who are out on their balconies to watch it every year.
Saturday/Sunday – The Resurrection. On Saturday night, everyone makes their way to church, with their special Easter candle (called a Lambatha), for a special Easter service. At 11pm begins what we call “Defte Lavete Fos”, the build up to the resurrection. All of the lights in the church go out, and we are left in complete darkness. The priest then brings out a lit candle, and passes on the fire to the people around him…and then they pass it on and they pass it on…until the entire church is lit totally by each person’s candle. Writing about it cannot do it justice, it is a beautiful, beautiful sight to behold and it has always taken my breath away. When I was younger, the entire congregation used to go outside to do this. I guess they decided it was too time consuming so now we do it inside. Now, in writing this I decided to do a little research, and discovered that the light that is brought out by the priest is not some random candle he lit with a match. The fire is actually the “Eternal Flame” brought by plane to each of country from Jerusalem on Saturday. Intense right?
This whole time, the priest is singing the song “defte lavete fos”, which I will spare you. Next, the priest begins the singing of Christos Anesti, which we sing about 1000000 times throughout the rest of the night. We also move our candles in the shape of a cross. It goes like this:
And the rough translation is this:
Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Then, the priest shouts out “Christos Anesti!” and raises his candle towards us, and we all reply “Alithos Anesti!” and raise our candles back, which translated means “Christ is risen!” and “Truly he is risen!”. Because our church is bilingual, we say it both in Greek and in English. And our priest is a jokester, so every year he also says it in a bunch of other languages that no one knows, so no one knows what to respond. Anyways, we do this for about 5 minutes straight, and it happens again during the rest of the service. Since the flame of the candle is holy fire, many people bring that flame back to their homes to bless the house.
At this point, we’re at about midnight, the Anastasi (resurrection) has occurred, and everyone’s ready to peace out. So the majority of the congregation clears out, and leaves just us few that are super-dedicated. And thus, commences a liturgy. This takes about 2 hours. Generally, if you stay til the end, you’re staying til about 2-3am. Not to mention that AFTER that, there’s egg giving-outtage.
So Orthodox people dye RED eggs for Easter. This symbolizes the blood of Christ. The symbolism of the egg itself, is that of the tomb, from which comes not death, but new life. After church, the priest has a big basket of eggs, and we all go up and get them from him. It is tradition to hit the eggs against each other, like this:
and say “CHRISTOS ANESTI!” Again, symbolism of resurrection, of life from the tomb. In my family, we like to have competitions to see who can crack the most eggs of other people. My Uncle Jimmy has a tendency to win every year. It’s an art form really.
Traditionally, after church (keep in mind this is 2-3am), my aunt likes to host people over at her house, and stuff their faces full of food. You’re supposed to fast (essentially go vegan) for the 40 days preceding Easter, so now that the day has arrived, it’s time to eat MEAT. A traditional Easter food for Greeks is Mayiritsa, and it is made with lamb intestines. I think that’s nasty, and I never eat it. Luckily, my aunt always has about 1000 other options to choose from! This year she didn’t do it, but that’s okay. She’s getting on in years, and it’s so much work!
Finally, Sunday – family time. My day usually looks like this: Wake up around noon, eat some tsoureki (a traditional sweet Easter bread) and red eggs. Hang around then go to my grandparents’ house for “lunch” which usually consists of lamb, pork, chicken, salad, potatoes etc etc…, fall into a food coma, pick yourself up again around 6 to go to a family gathering, where there is again more food, and stay there eating and chatting with the fam jam until about 1 in the morning again.
THAT, my friends, is how I do Easter. I know that this was a long-ass post. But I thought it’d be nice to teach y’all somethin!
Christos Anesti! and Happy Easter!