Easter is one of the most special holidays in the Greek Orthodox faith. In addition to it being a sacred holy day, it also celebrates family, tradition, and food.
This year, Greek Easter will be celebrated on May 2. Greek Easter is on a different day because the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar.
I’ve always been really passionate about my Greek heritage, but now that I have a son, it’s important for me to teach him these traditions. The best way to learn about these traditions was to spend some time with my mom, Joanne. The top traditions I wanted to know more about were: Why we dye Easter eggs red, egg fights, tsoureki, and of course how to make some of the staples we always had on our table every Easter.
Dying Easter eggs red and egg fights
It’s a tradition to dye Easter eggs on Holy Thursday. The red color has a religious meaning and symbolizes the blood that Christ shed on the cross. I’m not sure who started the red egg cracking game, but remember this tradition fondly. To play the game two people each take a hardboiled red egg, each person takes turns hitting or knocking the ends of their egg into each other. If your egg gets cracked, you lose. Not a whole lot of science there, but it’s fun and you get some bragging rights.
This bread is traditionally only made and served at Easter time. It’s a sweetbread seasoned with the spice mahlepi/mahleb (this spice is made from the pits/seeds of cherries). Tsoureki is an all day process, so you really need to carve out a day to bake. “Each piece of the braid is supposed to represent the holy trinity and tsoureki reminds me of Easter,” said Joanne.
Greek Rice Pudding
While Greek rice pudding isn’t an Easter tradition for all Greeks, it is in our household. My mom said, “Greek rice pudding reminds me of my yia yia’s Calliope. She made this dessert all the time and could get it stark white. It was so creamy and reminds me of my childhood. I like to keep the tradition going by making it for my kids and grandkids.”
While baklava isn’t an Easter tradition for all Greeks, we always had this at the table on Easter. “My mom wasn’t a baker, but Thea (aunt in Greek) was. She made this dish for every holiday,” said Joanne. If you’ve ever made baklava, you know that this is a painstaking process of constantly keeping the phyllo dough moist. This is why we left the baklava to the expert Jackie Biles at Ya Sweets Bakery. She makes traditional baklava and raspberry chocolate baklava, made with love, care, and copious amounts of phyllo, walnuts, and honey.
Keftedes are Greek meatballs. I asked my mom why we always have keftedes at holidays, and she said, “My mom made keftedes as a mezze or appetizer, before meals. It makes me think of my mom and makes me feel like she’s with us.” This is a recipe my family has had for generations.
It wouldn’t be a typical holiday without my mom’s pilaf. “We always had pilaf as a side growing up and it’s something you’ll see it as a side dish for Greek meals. It reminds me of cooking with my mom and I like to incorporate it into holiday meals,” said Joanne. This is my mom’s staple at almost every meal she makes. It’s a combination of rice and orzo, chicken stock, and butter.
The best part about learning about these traditions was spending the time with my mom and son. However you celebrate the holidays, we hope you’re surrounded by love, laughter, and good food.
Want to know more? Check out our collection where we sourced the local ingredients featured in this post.