I Thought Easter Was Boring. Then I Went to Greek Easter…
I was 23 and living in New York City when my new roommate invited me to spend Greek Easter with her family on Staten Island. At first, I declined the invitation, telling her I had to work the brunch shift at my restaurant gig because Easter was one of the busiest shifts of the year.
That’s when I got the first of many lessons about the holiday: Greek Easter usually falls on a different date than Western Easter. The Orthodox Christian church, my roommate explained, still uses the Julian calendar, which has a 13-day difference between the Gregorian calendar the rest of Christianity uses. That year, Greek Easter actually fell on May 5. And I was free!
I’m glad I was because, it turns out, Greek Easter is way better than the Easter I was used to. Here are five reasons I’d gladly say yes — or Nai! — if an invitation came way.
1. It’s less stuffy.
My Easter celebrations at home were always formal and, if I am being perfectly honest, quite boring — but this one was vibrant and exciting. My senses were overwhelmed the second I walked through the door. Yes, my nose got most of it (I could smell buttery pastries and roasting meats from the sidewalk, actually), but I could also hear children laughing and dozens of adults talking in Greek. There were so many people there — and they were all there to celebrate.
2. The food is better.
My roommate’s Yaya (her grandmother, who insisted I also call her Yaya) whisked me straight into the kitchen where I found the two biggest legs of lamb I had ever seen roasting in the oven. When we sat down to eat, I learned that not only were they large and aromatic, but they were also juicy, tender, and nothing like the shrink-wrapped spiral ham I was used to eating at my family’s Easter.
And that was just the beginning: The feast table, which was richly decorated in deep reds and golds, was covered with trays of spanakopita, baskets of tsoureki (a traditional sweet bread with a flavor like cinnamon), bowls of flavorful dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), and crispy kolokithokeftedes (cheese and zucchini fritters). There were crispy potatoes, rich soups, fresh salads, and so much more. This was no light Easter brunch.
After dinner, Yaya brought out trays of kourambiedes, delicious and irresistible butter cookies that, in my humble opinion, blow baklava out of the water, and ouza, a creamy aperitif, for everyone. We stayed around the dinner table, laughing, nibbling, drinking, and enjoying each other’s company longer than I had ever sat at my own Easter table. I feel like I could have sat there forever.
3. It’s more spiritual.
The lamb, Yaya explained to me, didn’t just serve as the main dish at the meal — it was also meant to honor the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and his Easter resurrection. “Today is all about Him,” she told me with a wink as she handed me a glass of sweet red wine to cheers with.
I sipped my wine and thought about how unfamiliar this idea was to me. My family is not religious, and our Easter celebrations have always been centered around a big fluffy bunny who leaves you gifts rather than the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a non-believer who has only ever thought of Easter as an excuse to wear pastel colors, I listened to the guests discuss the highlights of Holy Week, the sweet melancholy of Good Friday, and the vibrant celebration of the midnight Resurrection mass that took place the night before.
4. It’s inclusive.
This was nothing like the Easter I was used to and, at first, it filled me with unease. Would this family realize I was a fraud and chastise me, or worse, kick me out? But instead of reprimanding me for my lack of religious convictions, my roommate’s family shared their traditions with me, each person taking great pride and joy in explaining the meaning of the holiday and the importance of their customs.
As I nervously dipped pita bread into olive oil, I watched the holiday unfold around me, and soon enough, found it impossible to not to be overcome with the beauty of the day. With each new conversation, each new explanation of the traditions, I felt less and less out of place, and more and more connected to what was happening around me.
5. The egg-related games are more fun.
As we were getting ready to leave at the end of the evening, my roommate’s family had one last thing to teach me: the egg game. As the tradition dictated, hard-boiled eggs dyed a deep red color — a symbol for Christ’s blood — were handed out to everyone at the table. One by one, we took turns tapping the tip of our egg with our neighbors, calling out “Christós Anésti” (Christ has risen) and hearing “Alithos Anesti” (truly He has risen) in return. The game lasts until there is only one egg left un-cracked. That lucky person gets to make a wish, and even though it wasn’t me, I didn’t feel much like a loser.
Have you ever been to Greek Easter? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?