Greek Easter and the Lent process!

I have been famously been noted as saying Easter is hands down my favorite holiday of them all. And the Holiday pretty much started if you are a devoted Greek Orthodox. So I thought I would explain what our lent/fasting consists of because it's not like any other fasting I have ever heard or read about.

Greek Orthodox are the only Orthodox faithful community that follows many of the similar practices to many who follow the Catholic faith. Before Easter begins we celebrate and celebrate, in Greece itself you will hear about something called Apokries which is non-stop partying with Carnival like events full of dancing and food.

Why do we party so much right before what should be a religious pilgrimage of the soul... I guess Greeks believe we sacrifice so much during the Lent season, that we start it off with a real bang. The week leading up to lent are food dedicated days...
  • we start with Grilled Thursday, a meat related date. I believe Greeks version of Fat Tuesday. You are to start removing all meats in your fridge this day and Barbeque them til your hearts desire.
  • We follow up with Cheese Sunday... time to take all that Feta, Haloumi, Kefalotiri cook it, use it, eat it with bread. Because Greeks can enjoy a feverishly gross amount of cheese if need be.
  • Clean Monday is the start of the fasting period... either used as the date to clean out the rest of your fridge of possible foods that aren't suppose to be there or you eat clean. Depends who you ask, this has been skewed by many of Greeks.
So now you've emptied your fridge let the Fasting begin.

I had a lot of friends of many cultures fast, a Catholic girl friend who fasted Chocolate one lent, many Muslim girlfriends who fasted for various Ramadans which consists of not eating from when the sun comes up til it settles again in the West. I will gripe that ours is harder... but let me explain why?!?!

Greeks fast Meat (For SURE) for 40+ days, I remember fasting one year for 52 days because that is how lent fell on the Calendar. This means at no point in time do you get to break this fast, not when the sun goes down, or before it might come out. Meat is NOT an option... the hard core cut out meat by products. So no Milk, Yogourt, Cheese, Eggs (this includes Fish and Bacon in case you didn't get the all meat sacrifice.

So for 40+ days you watch others eat and eat and eat food that you are dying to have... Not to mention food many devout Greek Orthodox will also fast alcohol and sex. To purify themselves to the fullest. While I haven't fasted for years since having babies, I really use to enjoy it because it was really a test of will power to me, how you can convince yourself that you can do anything you put your mind to. Not sure I am willing to sacrifice food lately. But I look forward to the day when I know I have it in me to do a full fast again.

Many days during Lent are church oriented days... But Holy week trumps it all! Every night there is service after Palm Sunday. This is also when Greeks will look to get Holy communion for all their hard work and appreciation of the sacrifice Jesus also took. Holy Friday is the beginning of the end of Lent and starts non stop Church attendance and in my opinion the celebration of Christ. Thursday night many women will stay overnight dressing Jesus' grave for that in the morning we are all welcomed to come and grieve and mourn his crucifiction, in the evening we will walk his body around the church with a candle lit vigil. It really is a beautiful procession.

Most Greeks wait til Saturday morning to begin the breaking of their fast with also having Holy Communion. This being because many will have opted out eating any oils the last week, and once they have taken their communion they don't feel as strict to eat oil, but meat is highly frowned upon til Saturday night after Midnight Mass. Many religions have a midnight mass for Easter, but our priest will come out of the church declare Jesus resurrected, many Greeks have customs of launching fire crackers at this time because it is a rejoiceful moment, some don't agree... but last year are people we're chanting and the fire crackers were exploding above us it was a little surreal of a moment.

After the festivities of Church, we tend to go home for most Greeks is the beginning of the breaking of the fast. We eat soup called Magiritsa (The best explanation I have of this is like a Haggis soup... or really an innards soup, Heart, spleen, kidney and most of all Intestine soup.) Many don't enjoy this soup, but it actually is surprisingly good. We crack our first set of eggs that night, yes we dye our eggs and then break them. I would cringe if we made ours as beautiful as per se the Ukrainians make their ornate eggs, but ours are usually dyed red (symbolising the blood lost for us all) and we crack them and eat them the same night.

Next day is Easter and other than stuffing ones face in every food imaginable... and hey we live in Canada so it gets culturally blended with anything under the sun plus the most popular Easter meat which is Lamb. Greeks consume a whole lamb, put it on the spit and let it charcoal slowly but surely all day long.

I am excited about Easter a little sad I will have newborn in the house as many activities I will not be able to participate in, like extreme fasting.

It's a very family oriented holiday. We see all our immediate family, but also God parents and God children, and coumbari (those who married us) where we give people baskets of eggs, breads and easter cookies. God parents are expected to get their god children new shoes... not sure what the tradition is exactly and where it comes from, but it's a cute one. But it's mostly a lot of good times, lots of sharing and feeling loved. Greeks are very proud of Easter and many ironically will tell you it's their favorite holiday.

So happy Lent to those starting, hope it brought some clarity to you what the next few months will feel like for Greeks. And Happy Easter Season to you all!


1 comment

  1. Lovely reading this. As a fellow Greek Orthordox I really should fast but don't although love all the rituals of Greek Easter. Especially Midnight mass and all the food.