It should come as no surprise to you that the biggest celebration of the year for Greek people revolves around food.
There are many things I love about being Greek, and Easter is one of them. The week leading up to Easter—Holy Week—is where people of Greek Orthodox faith are more well behaved than any other time of year. I can't say that's true for me, since I don't even fast, but I know there are a few good Greek Christians out there, somewhere!
On Good Friday, children are brought to church to help decorate and place flowers on the 'coffin' of Jesus, and, on Good Friday, we don't eat much. You will find many grumpy Greek people on this day. We basically eat boiled water and perhaps a fruit or two.
Saturday night before Easter, we go to church for midnight mass. Several thousand Greek people pack into our relatively small church, all holding candles. The children's candles are always the most decorated, and beautiful, and are traditionally given to them by their Godparents.
Right before midnight, all the lights are turned off, and the church remains lit only by the Eternal Flame on the altar. At midnight, the Priest calls out "Christos Anesti" and passes the flame to everyone around him, until all the candles are lit. We all kiss each other, (and this can take up to an hour because we keep bumping into people we know) and it's such pretty sight, the thousands of flickering candles, as we make our way outside at midnight.
Of course, the night is not complete without a few ladies burning their hair, but we have grown accustomed to the smell of hair catching on fire, and to the feeling of warm wax falling onto our hands.
After church , we drive home, candles still lit. We get weird looks from people in other cars, who are wondering why we're holding lit candles in the car. (I don't even want to know what would happen if an airbag popped open.) We do this to make a sign of the cross with the candle once we get home, under the door frame, in smoke. The burned cross remains there throughout the year, symbolizing that the light of the Resurrection has blessed the home.
The candles are then placed around the dinner table for the midnight meal. Before we begin eating, we break eggs with eachother. This is a challenge called "tsougrisma". Who ever has the strongest egg is the winner. Of what? I don't quite know, but it's still fun to win.
Greek Easter for me is all about the warm and delicious smell of my grandmother's fresh baked Easter bread, tsoureki, yummy koulouria, Greek cookies, dyed red eggs, and of course, the lamb. Oh, the lamb...
On Easter Sunday, Greek men (and women) wake up at the crack of dawn to get the spits and grills all fired up for the big feast, and for the lambs. Around noon, we start ripping off the meat, and eating. We also enjoy other food, like Greek chicken rice soup, cheese, bread, potatoes, salads, pasta dishes, and more meat. So much more.
It's the beginning of a two day feast where basically, we just eat and sleep, in rotation, with friends and family. We listen to Greek music, dance, break some plates, and say "Xristos Anesti" over and over again, and continue eating, until we can't take it anymore. Tents are put up in backyards, everyone has a drink in their hand, and we party hard.
Of course, chocolate is also important for Greek people celebrating Easter, too, and every year I have an Easter egg hunt for my children in our house before the real festivities begin.
Along with the candles, new shoes and outfits are purchased for children from their Godparents, and if you're ever at someone's house, celebrating Greek Easter with them, and you're not sure what that guy's name is? Just call him George. Nine times out of ten, you'll be right.