5 Ways I’m Updating My Family’s Greek Easter Traditions This Year

published Apr 29, 2021
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Greek Easter bread with eggs
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This time last year, my family huddled around a desktop computer watching our church’s Holy Saturday evening service on Facebook. We each held a single candle while our priest, alone in the altar several miles away, sang the Greek Orthodox Easter hymn “Christos Anesti,” which celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It all felt very different from years past: Typically, I’d dress up and be surrounded by my church community, all the while hoping my hair didn’t catch on fire because every attendant holds a light candle throughout the evening service. But, as everyone knows, 2020 was far from normal

For me, last Easter felt devoid of everything I loved about the holiday, which my family celebrates in accordance to Greek Orthodox tradition: moving in-person services, lamb roasting on a spit, large gatherings, family members reuniting, games, and lots and lots of Greek food. Last year, my family barely participated in the day’s joyous traditions because it didn’t seem right; there were only four of us, and to us, four people a celebration did not make.  

After a year full of isolation and dread, people should take any opportunity to celebrate something and go all out — which is exactly what I plan to do with my family for Easter 2021. Graduating in a pandemic taught me that it’s more important to find ways to celebrate occasions big and small than sulk about what’s not possible.  Here’s how I plan to update five of my favorite Greek Easter traditions for the second year of the pandemic.

We’ve learned to embrace a change of church scenery.

Holy Saturday 2020 was the first time my family ever streamed a church service online. The evening service was bittersweet  — I missed the night’s warm atmosphere and my parish singing. 

Now, my family livestreams the Orthodox Church’s primary worship service, known as the Divine Liturgy, in our living room every Sunday. I plan to make my favorite service, the Holy Saturday’s evening service, feel as close to the real thing as possible. Halfway through the service, the priest and clergymen will share the Holy Fire, which represents the blue light that came from Jesus’s tomb, by lighting every attendant’s candle. At that point in the service, I plan to light several candles around the living room and pass the flame to my immediate family members, so we can all partake in the ritual and recreate the service’s environment.

Another part of the evening I enjoy is the unspoken ritual of taking the flame home with you. Usually, one or two people will protect the candle’s flame in the care ride home from church. After this year’s service is done, I will bring one of the candles back to my room and keep it safely protected behind a glass tumbler. 

Credit: Andie Kanaras

There are fewer competitors, but more competition.

Greek people invented the Olympics, so it’s no wonder my family is super competitive. On Easter Sunday, we play tsougrisma, a two-player game that involves two hard-boiled dyed red eggs. Each person starts by holding an egg. Then, one person will say, “Christos Anesti,” which means “Christ has risen,” and the second person says, “Alithos Anesti,” which means, “Truly He has risen.” Next, the first player will use one end of their egg to hit the other person’s egg. The pair repeats this until one player’s egg cracks on both sides. Whoever’s egg survives wins, and that person goes onto the next competitor.

Since I’m only celebrating with my immediate family, there will be fewer competitors and more eggs, meaning there’s more competition to be had. I plan on making the game a true competition this year, with brackets and score-keeping. The small game is always a highlight of the day because it allows every person to connect, from the young children to the yiayiathes, and partake in the symbolic tradition.

I’m trying my hand at something new

Usually during holidays, my mother and aunts take over the kitchen cooking Greek delicacies, including spanakopita and lemon potatoes; but this year, there’s little room for me to hide. I’m taking the empty kitchen as an opportunity to learn how to cook more traditional Greek foods with my mother and bond with her. Cooking Greek food together will allow us to connect on another level, as she passes down recipes from her mother and grandmother to me. In turn, I can put my own spin on my favorite dishes by adding a little extra zest and flavor, contributing to the tradition in the process. 

… but also turning to the local Greek store for help.

My family supports our local Greek grocery store year-round, but man, do Greek people love to cook food themselves (with love, of course). Usually, one family member will bake the tsoureki, which is a sweet braided bread that’s made with the Mediterranean spices mastic and melhab. However, this year, we’re all a bit too tired to knead dough, so I plan on purchasing a fluffy loaf and some feta from the local Greek store. I’ll probably pick up a pack of Mythos beer, and maybe even some Greek Cheetos, too.

Credit: Andie Kanaras

We’re cooking less food and spreading more love.

Greek Easter revolves around food, whether you’re making it, eating it, playing with it, or being chased with it. (Yes, there is a tradition where the youngest attendee must eat a lamb’s eyeball for good luck.) Of course, the more people attend, the more food there will be. I have no plans to reunite with my extended family for this year’s Easter, which is sad because I miss them and their delicious food, but I am so grateful that they’re all safe, healthy, and well. That means I’ll be sharing the holiday with people I live with, which includes my parents, grandparents, and sister. 

My first Easter in the pandemic seemed sad and lifeless because of everything I thought was missing. At the time, my parents, college-aged brother, and I were adjusting to only spending time with each other. Now, I’m just grateful to be surrounded by my loved ones, even if they drive me crazy some days. I’ve realized that joyous occasions aren’t about what you’re doing, but who you’re sharing them with. I have no idea what next year will hold, but I’m hoping Easter 2022 looks a lot like the easters of years past, with a little extra gratitude for good measure.