In the Greek community, Easter is easily the biggest celebration of the year. And for Greeks of the diaspora, who hang more strongly on to culture and traditions after leaving their motherland, Easter is a time when everyone rejoices, remembers and celebrates with family and friends. But is Easter celebrated the same now as in past years? Is Easter in 2014 reminiscent of Easter in the ’50, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s? Have we lost faith or is it stronger than ever?
Losing my religion:
Greek Orthodox Easter is so embedded with traditions and cultural aspects that making any distinction can be difficult.
Elizabeth Akrivopoulos feels that the two go hand-in-hand: “We’ve combined the two together – religion and tradition. We celebrate Christ has risen but we have traditions attached,” she says.
Yet, Sophy Kyvelidis says: “tradition is different to religion and [she and her family] are very much about tradition than religion” but her family have a 15-year-old family tradition for Easter that they observe every year that began out of a church service. 15 years ago, Sophy and her family lived on Centre Road, in Bentleigh, near St. Raphael Greek Orthodox Church. Prior to the Easter Saturday midnight mass, all the family – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents – would gather there before church, walk together to midnight mass, get the Holy Flame and go back home to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Now, even though her children are married and have moved on, they still gather at her house, and again on Easter Sunday.
“My family really look forward to Easter, as it’s only once a year and not a huge ask to get everyone together,” Sophy tells Neos Kosmos.
Maria Konstandellos and Alicia Betoulis agree that Easter is a time that family come together and celebrate. The two 17-year-olds, also observe the religious aspects of Greek Orthodox Easter.
“I go to church for the whole week, from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. I usually fast for the week, I have done longer but can’t say I last the 40 days,” says Maria about how she observes Greek Orthodox Easter.
And even though the young girls follow the Greek traditions and religious aspect of Easter, fear exists that the next generation and the younger children don’t understand the true meaning of Easter.
“We are losing our traditions as the kids see Easter as just the Easter Bunny, but they don’t know the true meaning that Christ has risen,” Alicia tells Neos Kosmos.
“It’s like Christmas where all they think it’s all about presents. And Easter is the same, they think it’s all about chocolate,” adds Maria.
However, Sophie Margaritis believes that the traditions will definitely live through to the future generations. She says that her children – who follow the Easter traditions – and her nieces and cousins, are all going to church.
“They want to carry on the traditions more so now than ever,” says Sophie. “I think it’s difficult in a mixed marriage, yet I think they will still carry on the traditions – I think it’s stronger than ever.”
Elizabeth agreed, saying she sees the same cultural traditions being observed by her children and her nieces.
“What I was taught from my mum I’ve passed on to my kids and they are married and doing the same with their families,” adds Elizabeth.
Sophy believes the next generation will continue the traditions as she sees it with her children but adds that this generation is also more accepting because they have a choice whether or not to partake in traditions, unlike her generation where they were forced to be a part of it. She uses fasting before Easter as an example and that one of her children has decided to fast because they’ve been given the choice to, and one doesn’t because again, it’s their choice.
Sophie’s 27-year-old daughter fasts for the full 40 days along with her fiancé, while Sophie always fasts for the week leading up to Easter.
“We’ve carried our traditions to our children,” Sophie says, “we go to Megali Evthomatha, the epitafio, Anastasi, and Sunday we always have Easter at our place.”
Alicia adds that if and when she has children she will ensure that they follow the traditions too.
“It might be a different story if I marry someone from a different culture,” Alicia says, “but I will keep the traditions with fairness and balance.”
Debbie Triantafylidis used to take communion with her mother as a youngster but lately she’s distanced herself from the church because she feels as though the church is becoming interested in money more than religion. She said she only goes now for weddings, christenings and funerals as she “didn’t agree with” a lot of things she was seeing.
“You go there now and it says how much you need to pay for each candles when it’s always been a donation. There is a price list on weddings, christenings, so I’ve backed off going to church now,” Debbie tells Neos Kosmos.
“We still get together on Easter Sunday but Easter is more about family than religion.”
Koulouria, red eggs and lambathes:
“For me it’s a family event,” says Sophie about getting together on Easter Monday with her daughters, grandmothers and nieces to make the koulouria. “The girls get the day off, and the grandmothers come along, and my nieces come along too.” She adds it was pappou who taught her daughters from when they were young how to make the koulouria properly as he is the baker in the family, and debunking the myth that this is just a female affair.
Yet Debbie’s children are boys and she says that even though she makes the koulouria and dyes the eggs, it’s a different tradition for her, especially now that her mother has passed on.
“With boys it’s different,” she says. “I don’t have that get together but I get invited to go along and do it with my daughter-in-laws’ family.”
Alicia says that she and her sister always go to their yiayia’s house to make the Easter foods.
“I have a memory of my yiayia singing a song about koulourakia,” she say with Maria adding that she makes the koulouria and dyes the eggs red with her mum and yiayia too.
“I get told off for eating the dough raw, I think every Greek does it,” Maria says with a giggle.
“My mother is 83 and fasts three times a year, Easter, Christmas and August 15 – she’s too old to be fasting,” says Sophy with a genuine concern for her mother’s health. And when she tries to talk to her mother about this, and her suffering by not eating a balanced diet, her mother always answers with “God will look after me”.
Every year on Easter Sunday, Sophy sees her mother get sick. She says by fasting for 50 days at Easter and not eating a healthy diet, she’s not getting the nutrients she needs and isn’t looking after herself.
“My cousin’s mother has stopped because every time she was fasting she’d get sick,” Sophy says, “and fasting today is different as you can fast and not go without anything. You have flourless cakes now, soy cheese. So fasting today is not what it was in our grandparents’ day which was psomi and nero,” but adds her mother won’t eat the other foods as she’s not used to them.
Professor Antigone Kouris, Department of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, La Trobe University, says fasting isn’t the healthiest option for seniors as they “need their protein more than younger people and it’s very difficult to get that amount of protein from vegetable foods”.
“The protein requirement for seniors is higher,” Professor Kouris tells Neos Kosmos. She says some risks include feelings of weakness, loss of balance and in some cases a drop in iron levels. She says that even though you can be a healthy vegetarian in your senior years, you need to ensure you have a very balanced diet to do so. But says some seniors in our community tend to go for easy options such as bread, pasta and rice that don’t have a lot of nutritional levels.
The other health concern with Easter is taking Holy Communion and using the same spoon that has been used be hundreds of people. The chance of contamination is high in this respect, but Professor Kouris says the “alcohol would significantly reduce the risk of catching any bacteria or virus”.
“From a microbiological perspective the alcohol might be good to knock off any viruses or bacteria,” she says.
Maria says that because the communion is Holy and comes from the church nothing will happen.
“We’ve been taking communion for so many years and nothing has ever happened,” she says, with Alicia staking she doesn’t think about this when taking communion.
Sophie agrees and says this is a “new thing”.
“We’ve been raised to take communion in all those years, and noone has ever gotten sick.”
But Sophy says this risk of contamination is the sole reason behind her daughter not taking communion.