In Greece, the sacred holiday of Easter is observed through a series of customary rituals over the course of several days. The Mediterranean lifestyle is one in which food is the center of any celebration. Easter, in this case, is no different. Traditional Greek food and activities performed during the Easter holiday are symbolic of the events that occurred during the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The festivities begin on Holy Thursday. Preparations for the Easter celebration commence with the baking of tsoureki, the traditional bread,... dying eggs red. The red eggs are symbolic of two major ideas. The first, the egg, is representative of the beginning of life. Spring is the season for fertility and growth. Likewise, Easter is the day in which Jesus was resurrected, renewing his life. The red dye represents the blood of the savior. The red eggs are placed strategically in Greek homes to ward off evil spirits. Animals are protected by the same red dye, which is marked on their heads and backsides. The period of mourning begins that evening with a church replication of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Holy Friday, or Good Friday as many of us call it, continues the mourning of the loss of Jesus Christ. As it is considered one of the holiest days dedicated to prayer and spiritual awakening, regular duties, like work, cleaning and cooking are, for the most part, avoided. A simple tahini soup or unseasoned foods are eaten on Holy Friday. Friday's Lamentation service includes a march to the cemetery carrying lit candles and a burial stand covered in flowers with an image of Jesus.
Saturday's events are a televised spectacle to be seen. The Eternal Flame is transported by jet and distributed to all the local churches. People await patiently until the flame has arrived so that they can begin food preparations for Easter Sunday. That evening, the church re-enacts scenes from the resurrection of Christ, while the congregation watches with tall, white candles. At midnight the priest yells "Christ has risen" and begins to pass the Eternal Flame around the congregation so that they may light their candles. The Greek isles go wild. Church bells ring, horns are sounded and fireworks displays are everywhere. The candles are taken home and a cross of smoke is made at the front door to bless the home. The candles are placed as centerpieces on the dining room table and the fast is broken with a traditional meal of mayiritsa soup, tsoureki bread and the red eggs.
Easter Sunday commences the festivities of games and eating of delicious traditional Greek foods in celebration of Christ's resurrection. The traditional Greek Easter recipes are prepared with the star being the spit-fired whole roasted lamb, symbolizing the sacrifice. Wine flows freely and the Greeks celebrate the holiday long into the night.
Celebrate this Easter like the Greeks do with a delectable roasted lamb. This recipe is to be cooked whole, on a spit. If you do not have access to a spit, you may marinate lamb parts in the same manner listed below and cook them in the oven.
Whole Greek Roasted Lamb:
- Average 6kg of lamb, ready to cook
- 8-10 lemons, juiced with pulp
- 3-4 garlic heads, chopped
- 1 bottle of olive oil
- 1 bottle of red wine
- Lots of fresh and dried herbs: rosemary, parsley, oregano
- Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Begin by massaging the lamb with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and dried and fresh herbs. Leave in a refrigerator marinating in these ingredients overnight.
Remove lamb from the refrigerator and season with salt and pepper. Take remaining marinade add a cup of red wine and set aside for basting. Place the lamb on the spit, ensuring that it is balanced to make for easy turning over the fire. Make slits in the meat and insert pieces of garlic. Start up the spit motor and light the fire. Continue basting the meat as it cooks. Use a meat thermometer to determine when your lamb is finished. 55-60 degrees celsius is rare, 65-70 degrees is medium and 75-80 degrees is well done. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of your lamb, but on average it will be between 4 and 5 hours.