As you probably already know, Greece hosts religious festivals with deeply rooted customs and centuries-old traditions all year round. One of the biggest celebrations of Christianity is of course, the Easter. The greek Easter is also a celebration of family and consequently a time for the family to be together. Preparations for Easter start weeks in advance. In fact, they start with the Carnival, followed by the Kathara Deftera, the fastening period and of course the Holy week. However, I’m not gonna go through details of how we, the greeks, celebrate Easter; this time I am here to explain the greek gastronomy and specifically the lamb tradition for which, I’ve been constantly asked this week by my foreign friends.
The Easter Sunday is a big day of celebration in Greece. Families gather before noon to roast the lamb on a spit and then enjoy a long lunch with lots of meat, potatoes, salads and drinks. Eating meat is just a must-do thing while spending your easter in Greece.
Don’t you remember in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the scene were the bride’s aunt finds out that the new groom doesn’t eat meat?? “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? Okay. It’s okay. I cook lamb.”- it’s a scene that literally represents the greek reaction to the vegetarians. It got me in laughing tears the first time I saw it. Really.
During the preparation of the lamb, lemon juice, herbs, salt, and spices are massaged into the skin so they can infuse the lamb with flavor before it gets placed on the spit, or souvla. Some roast a whole lamb on a spit, others barbecue the legs on the grill, and still others roast it in the oven. One thing is certain – it isn’t Easter without it!
In fact, Greeks aren’t the only ones who feel this way. It’s a common Easter dish for many cultures, especially throughout Europe. But what’s the meaning behind this popular tradition?
As mentioned above, the main dish at the Easter table, is roasted lamb, and it is served in honor of the Lamb of God who was sacrificed and rose again on Easter. The origin of eating lamb on Easter comes from the Jewish Passover and is associated with the exodus from Egypt. The reference to lamb in Christianity goes back to the book of Genesis, when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son. In past centuries it was considered a lucky omen to meet a lamb, especially at Easter time. It was a popular superstition that the devil, who could take the form of all other animals, was never allowed to appear in the shape of a lamb because of its religious symbolism.
Nowadays, this meal typically takes place on Pasha or Easter. Some families eat their lamb in the early morning after they return from the Holy Saturday service because they’re eager to finally break the fastening period. Others wait until later on the day until the entire Greek family and friends come over to celebrate. In any case, it’s a tradition that we all adore!
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