The Christian symbolism of Easter was first underlined by the Apostle Paul. When the Christians began to celebrate Easter, they retained some of the features of the Jewish Passover, while at the same time adding others. This can be seen from the paschal lamb and the red eggs.
In Byzantine times, it was the custom to bake ring-breads with a red egg in the middle. The egg, is a symbol of life, while red is the color of life.
The dyeing of eggs for religious purposes is a practice, which is encountered in many parts of the world. Before Easter, there is a 50 day fasting period.
Easter begins on the Saturday of Lazarus (the Saturday before Palm Sunday) with children going from door to door singing the hymn of “Lazaros” and collecting money and eggs.
On the morning of Palm Sunday people gather in church and are given a cross made from palm fronds, which they put on their icon-stands at home and keep it for the whole of the coming year.
Every evening throughout Holly Week, people gather in church to follow with devoutness the Passion of Christ.
On Holy Tuesday, housewives make sweet rolls the koulourakia and the following day they do the housework, while in the evening they follow the blessing of Holly Oil that takes place in church.
Holy Thursday is the day for dyeing egg. In the evening, after the reading of the 12 Gospel, the girls undertake the decoration of the bier of Christ (Epitaphios) with garlands of white and purple flowers, so that in the morning of Good Friday it is ready to receive the image of the body of Christ when He is taken down from the cross.
Good Friday is a day of mourning. The drama of the death of Christ is followed with great devoutness. Sweet things are not eaten-for the love of Christ, who was given vinegar to drink. Soup made with sesame-paste, lettuce or lentils with vinegar is the food eaten on this day. It is considered a great sin to work with a hammer or nails or sew on Good Friday.
Vesper evening on Good Friday, is followed by the procession of the bier (representing Christ’s funeral). A band or choir playing or singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by the cantors, the clergy, women bearing myrrh, the altar boys carrying the liturgical fans, scouts and guides, and the people of the region, who sing the hymns throughout the procession. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfumes on the epitaphios (bier), holding lighted candles in their hands.
On Holy Saturday evening, the Resurrection mass takes place. At midnight the ceremony of lighting of candles is the most significant moment of the year. People, carefully, take home their lighted candles with the holly light of the Resurrection. Before entering their houses they make a cross with the smoke of the candle on top of the door, they light the oil candle before their icon-stand, and try to keep this light burning throughout the year.
The Lenten fast ends on Easter Sunday with the cracking of red-dyed eggs and an outdoor feast of roast lamb followed by dancing.
RED EASTER EGGS (Kokkina – pasxalina avga)
One of the nicest Greek customs is the use of red eggs for the Easter celebration. It is unthinkable to set an Easter table without them, for they add to the celebration and happy atmosphere.
3/4 cup Vinegar
Red food dye or coloring
A few cotton balls
Carefully wash and dry each egg. Set a large pot of water to boil. Add a red dye or food coloring and 3/4 cup of vinegar to the water, and boil for a few minutes. Slowly lower the eggs into the pot, and when the water comes to a boil, lower the heat. Let eggs simmer for 15 min., then remove them carefully from the pot. If you plan to cook more eggs, add an additional 2 tbs. vinegar to the water. Wipe cooked eggs with an oil-soaked cotton ball, then wipe each egg with a clean dry cloth. Place on a platter. Serve cold.
TSOUREKI (Greek Easter Bread)
2-7 gram Packets Active Dry Yeast
2 cups Warm Milk
9 to 10 cups All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
2 tsp. Makhlepi (Optional)
8 Tbs. Butter; Melted and Cooled 6 Eggs; 1 Lightly Beaten
1 tsp. Salt
1 Tbs. Grated Orange Rind (Zest)
1 Tbs. Grated Lemon Rind (Zest)
2 Hard-Cooked Red-Dyed Eggs (Optional)
2 Tbs. Black Cumin Seeds
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warmed milk. Stir in 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup sugar, cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 1-hour. Steep makhlepi (if utilizing)in 1/2 cup simmering water for about 5-minutes. Strain mixture and discard seeds. Set remaining liquid aside to cool.
Stir 1/2 cup water or makhlepi-scented liquid into the yeast mixture. Add butter and 5 eggs and thoroughly combine. Sift in 8 cups of flour, salt and remaining sugar into bread mixture. Add salt, orange and lemon zest, and mix thoroughly with a large wooden spoon. Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Knead, adding more flour if necessary, until smooth, approximately 10-minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the dough with a clean dish towel and set aside to raise for about 2- hours.
Return dough to the floured surface. Divide the dough into 6-equal parts and roll into ropes about 15-inches long. For each loaf, loosely braid 3 ropes, turn under ends and press 1 dyed egg (optional) near one end of each braid. Set bread aside to rise again for at least 1-hour on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
Pre-heat oven to 350-F degrees. Brush bread with remaining beaten egg and sprinkle with black cumin seeds. Bake until golden, approximately 40 to 50-minutes. Store cooled bread in an airtight container or serve warm.