EASTER IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

Culture

Holy Week and Easter remain a culturally significant time in the Mediterranean. It’s the most important and probably the most exciting festival of the year. At the same time nature is slowly awakening again and brings a welcome blaze of color after the cold and grey days of winter. Throughout the Mediterranean, families will come together to celebrate their respective traditions and typical customs.

Orthodox Easter usually falls later in the year than Western Christian Easter. This is because the Orthodox celebrate according to the Julian calendar while the Protestants and Catholics follow the Gregorian calendar with up to four weeks between and rarely coinciding. Orthodox Christians are mainly in Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine and other countries around the world. Due to the split of the two churches into the modern-day, the Catholic Church recognizes the Pope of Rome as head of the church and the Orthodox the Patriarch of Constantinople.

In Spain, Easter traditionally begins with “Semana Santa“. For a week there are numerous processions in the streets in which the faithful disguise themselves as penitents. The various groups of “brotherhoods” are dressed in silk robes and wear high, pointed hats. Beautifully decorated statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Last Supper are carried silently through the streets, some of which are so large that 50 or more people have to carry the weight.

In France, “Pâques” is a religious festival of course, but also a traditional gathering for families. Here the Easter fish plays an important role, the “Poisson d’Avril”, which means April fish. One of the main French Easter traditions are the Easter bells or Les cloches de Pâques. The bells would ring on Easter Sunday to announce the Resurrection of Christ. So in France it is the bells rather than the Easter bunny who provides the Easter eggs.

“Pasqua”, in Italy, is marked by church services throughout the country, as well as a festive meal enjoyed at home with family. Some of the most well-known traditions are the Good Friday processions – in Rome they walk the “Stations of the Cross”. On Easter Sunday, people usually eat for many hours after mass and after several courses the “Colomba pasquale” follows, a yeast cake in the shape of a dove.

In Greece almost every visitor brings a beautiful decorated candle to church, traditionally children receive this from their godparents. Shortly before midnight, every Easter candle is lit with the Holy Light, and punctually at midnight the distant church bells end the prayer together with fireworks. Afterwards, the still burning candles are carefully carried to their homes in order to draw a lucky cross, made of soot over the front door before the candle dies. After the festive meal, the egg breaking begins, whereby the boiled and red colored eggs are pressed more or less violently against each other. Anyone whose egg survives the bumps undamaged can count on good luck all year round.

Easter has its origins in the old pre-Christian spring celebrations and is a connection to these ancient festivals in both a real and a symbolic sense. Many of the foods that are a traditional part of Easter, such as the roast lamb, which is the heart of the Sunday festival, or eggs as a symbol of new life, symbolize this today.

Easter in Spain

By Veronica Palacios
Instagram: @healthyspanishfoodie

Easter, referred to as Holy Week or “Semana Santa” in Spain, can be defined by 3 words: devotion, solemnity and tradition. Every year the whole country celebrates this religious festival, during which, various parades exemplifying contemplation, fervor for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the exaltation of the resurrection take place across the nation.

Semana Santa is a festivity that has taken place in Spain since the XVII century. From north to south, Spain is characterised with a vast variety of traditions, gastronomy and in even dialects. This is manifested by the different ways each region celebrates their particular Holy Week. That said however, there are main elements that all regions share which makes up the identity of a traditional Spanish holy week.

One of the fundamental pieces are the “brotherhoods” in Spanish “cofradías” or “hermandades”- a group of members of a parish who venerate a particular Christ, Virgin or Saint. These brotherhoods are particular to their local towns. Throughout the year, they are dedicated to organising the Holy Week, which includes the upkeep of traditional uniforms and floats or “pasos”, to ensure they can be paraded in full splendor when the celebrations begin on the Sunday after the first full moon in early spring.

The traditional uniforms of the brotherhoods are part of the cultural heritage of each region. The penitents or “Nazarenos” flood the processions with robes in different colours all of which have symbolic significance: white, for purity; black, for mourning; red, for blood; purple for penitence; and green for hope. These are also accompanied by “hoods” shaped like a pointed cone, which is said to have their origin in the 15th century with the Spanish Inquisition and which alludes to the penitent’s closeness to heaven.

The hoods also cover their faces keeping the brothers ́ anonymity as they parade and pray through the crowd. But not all the brotherhoods wear the same uniform. Some wear their robes without the hood, and play drums, bugles and trumpets, while others are draped in capes, or carry crosses alluding to the path of Jesus Christ to Mount Calvary.

The “moaners” are also part of the brotherhoods of Holy Week. These are the women who also accompany the floats, dressed in the traditional Spanish mantelet and hair comb, mostly wearing black clothes as a sign of mourning, while they carry candles to light up the darkness of the streets.

The “steps” are the floats that each brotherhood exhibits during the parades or “procesiones”. Each step hosts a Virgin, Christ or Saint to whom they pray along the way, and who enact the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many of the steps are centuries-old, made by famous Spanish sculptors and tailors. These sculptures are dressed in jewelry and ornaments donated by the brothers or devotees of the brotherhood. Bands of drums, cornets and trumpets are also part of the attractions of the Spanish Holy Week. Many of the musicians are members of the brotherhoods, who play the soundtrack to moments of devotion and solemnity. Holy Week is part of the cultural Spanish heritage and has more recently begun capturing international tourist interest.

If you have already visited the Spanish beaches but have not yet had the opportunity to experience the culture in depth, I definitely recommend that you visit Spain during the Easter holidays. I guarantee you will get goose bumps, whether you are religious or not.

Where should you go to enjoy Holy Week in Spain?

Andalusia hosts the most famous Holy Week in Spain. It is difficult to name which celebrations are the most popular but the “Virgen de la Macarena” with the parade of “la Madrugá” in Seville is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular to watch. Also, the Christ of the Good Death, in Malaga, where the legionaries, (Elite Spanish army), carry Christ crucifix on their shoulders while singing a very emotional hymn. We mustn’t forget the procession of the Christ of the Gypsies around the Sacromonte in Granada, accompanied by “saetas” or religious songs with a flamenco accent.

In Castilla y León, Holy Week is austere and solemn but no less significant. In fact, it ́s celebrations have also been renowned as national and international tourist spectacles on several occasions. In the parades of León, you can find sculptures of immense artistic value, such as carvings by the well-known baroque sculptor Gregorio Fernández. Also in Valladolid, on Good Friday more than 30 floats or “pasos” will exhibit carvings from even before the XVII century; or in Zamora, where the processions take place both day and night and are filled with contrasting lights, music and the brotherhood’s uniforms.

In Aragon is famous the “Break of the hour” from Calanda (Teruel), where thousands of brothers of all ages beat drums from 12 noon on Good Friday for 24 hours to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. In Castilla-La Mancha, Cuenca rumbles in the air with the parade of the “Miserere” on Good Friday. The brothers called “turbos” dress in purple robes and play big drums at the same time as dancing to the “Cristo Nazareno” in a roar of songs, sticks, claps and drums. Also in Toledo, the World Heritage city where Holy Week has been declared of International Tourist Interest, more than twenty brotherhoods will parade solemnly and silently through narrow streets where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together, flooded with incense scents and candles lit.

In Lorca, Murcia, one of the most unique Holy Week in Spain is celebrated. In particular with the brotherhoods of “Paso Blanco” and “Paso Azul” on Good Friday, when they represent a parade summarizing the History of Salvation. Images of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and the fight against evil are live and even chariots of horses participate! A scenography full of music, floats and costumes very different from the rest of Spain during Holy Week time.

Holy Week in Spain is also expected by all for its typical food and preparations. The “Mona de Pascua” from Catalonia, the “hornazo” from Toledo, the “pestiños” of Extremadura, the “filloas” of Galicia, the vigil chickpea stew typical of Lent Fridays or the worldwide known “torrijas”, are also part of the culture and tradition of the Spanish Holy Week. Without a doubt, Easter in Spain is a symbol of beliefs, religion, culture, gastronomy and above all, contrasts.

Easter in France

By Emmanuelle Dechelette – www.olio-nuovo-days.com

In France, the calendar celebrates Christian Easter, an occasion to remind to the French people that France is a laic state, and a country of contra- diction. Celebrations are opportunities to gather families, whether you are religious or atheist, but who ever you are, what ever you believe in or don’t, you are a customer, and tradition comes with presents and dedicated food.

I come from a family of Catholics and Jews. This made me feel I never knew were I belonged to, and I believe religion should be a private matter. The French calendar celebrations were the only occasions we could share something together. Don’t get me wrong, I had a happy childhood with a loving family, but I am also a pure French product with its contradictions. The only tradition I can remember in my family for Easter was Lamb and the Egg Hunting. Of course we had Easter lamb, a traditional symbol of Easter in both the Jewish and Christian religions: For Christians, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is identified with the lamb of Jewish tradition because he is an innocent victim sacrificed to redeem the sins of men. To commemorate the exodus and to celebrate Passover, the Jews customarily sacrifice a lamb.

Representing purity and innocence, this meat is an essential part of the Easter meal, and can be used in a variety of ways. Roasted, stuffed, sweet and sour, simmered. The sale of Easter lamb represents 20% of the annual fee for the breeders. Online you can find hundreds of different recipes like the famous 7 hours cook lamb. If you are a gourmet, I recommend to taste once in your lifetime “Agneau de Pré salé”, salt meadow lamb, with its taste of hazelnut, and a fat that caramelizes when cooked. Pré salé refers to lamb fattened in coastal pastures periodically flooded by the sea. Notice that for Catholics, you eat lamb on Sunday, after the traditional Easter mass.

Let’s come back to eggs hunting, my favourite moment at Easter time. I confess that I always preferred chocolate over lamb, still as an adult. I have learned since that it was a commercial tradition, but who cares, when you are a kid, egg hunting is like treasure hunting, and I can tell you that as a mother, to hide the eggs is also a lot of fun.

In France we have a tradition of artisans chocolatiers with Maison Bonnat, Patrick Roger, Jean-Paul Hévin. With a turnover of almost 30% for Easter, the chocolate sector is very competitive, with traditional and unique creations as the tribute to the pop years by Jean Paul Hevin while Ferrero, the world leader introduces a XXL version of its egg Ferrero Rocher. But how to explain the chocolate eggs hidden in the garden to your kids ? Legend says that on Good Friday, the bells of every church in France fly to Rome. They carry with them the grief of those who mourn Jesus’ crucifixion on that day. In keeping with the tradition, French church bells do not ring from Good Friday to Easter Sunday morning when the bells are said to return. The Easter bells “les cloches de Pâques” are believed to bring with them Easter eggs, chocolates and other treats.

What I also understood about the meaning of Easter when I had to think of it before to write this article thanks to TML, what is mainly celebrated on Easter is universal: it can not be taken by any religion or commercial purpose, it is the spring renaissance, showing the rebirth of the sleepy nature.

What a wonderful world!

Easter in Italy

By Lindsay Wengler – www.olivebranchnyc.com

Spring invites warmer weather, new blossoms, and verdant scenery that is so welcome after cold and gray Winters. One of my favorite Spring holidays, Easter, embodies this awakening and rebirth. The meaning of this Christian holiday remains the same around the world, however, the traditions and foods used in its celebration vary region by region.

The traditional main dish of Easter generally consists of Lamb which symbolizes innocence and the sacrifice of God’s son. Recipes and style of dishes vary throughout the different regions of Italy, ranging from Abbacchio a Scottadito (roasted lamb ribs) in Rome, a Puglian lamb stew prepared in a terracotta pot called Cutturidd, to Agnello Cacio e Uova, a rich dish that combines lamb, eggs, and cheese that can be found in parts of Southern Italy.

Easter Eggs in Italy symbolize fertility and rebirth, but you likely won’t see them paired with the Easter Bunny. Much like the United States, Uova di Pasqua al Cioccolato (Chocolate Easter Eggs), are prevalent and line the shelves in colorful wrapping and cellophane. These Easter eggs may be elaborately decorated, hollow, hold a delicious filling, or contain a special surprise. Hard boiled eggs are incorporated into Pane di Pasqua (Easter Bread) or into savory Easter pies such as Torta Pasqualina or savory cakes such as Casatiello Napoletano.

Colomba, a dove-shaped sweet bread decorated with nuts and sugar is a treat synonymous with Easter. Pastiera, a sweet pie made with cooked grain, ricotta, eggs, and orange flower water will also be a desert found on most tables at Easter. The celebration and enjoyment of delicious food with loved ones does not end on Easter Sunday. The day after Easter, Pasquetta, is also a holiday in Italy and is generally celebrated by enjoying a light meal or picnic lunch in the countryside.

No matter how you celebrate Easter, I hope it is wonderful holiday surrounded by great food and loved ones.

Buona Pasqua!

Greek Cypriot Orthodox Easter

By Helen Demetriou – Instagram: @helenskouzina

Pascha (Holy Easter) is the most important religious celebration in the Greek Christian Orthodox Church. The date of their Easter is based on a modified Julian Calendar, whilst Easter in the Western churches use the Gregorian calendar. This is why Orthodox and Catholic Easters are often celebrated on different days. A split that occurred over four centuries ago, although both faiths believe in the same book, God and savior. As a Greek Orthodox child attending school, it was a little confusing as to why most of my friends were eating chocolate eggs, while I was still fasting and they were doing laps of the Royal Easter Show and I was lapping the streets of my local church (and checking out the fashion!) I remember religiously trekking off to church, before school, for my communion.

The Friday night (Good Friday) walking around the block symbolizing Christ’s crucifixion and Saturday night (Holy Saturday) the resurrection of Christ, Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen) and off to home for soup. Easter Sunday was a time for feasting when all families gathered together, marking the end of lent. Lamb on the spit, cracking of the red eggs and of course our traditional Flaounes. Feasts of souvla (large pieces of lamb, pork or chicken cooked on an open charcoal fire). The flavor and artistry of this tradition defined many a good Greek man. Salads, cakes, sweets and alcoholic beverages featured as well on the menu.

The main tradition is the lamb souvla (a custom adopted from the ancient Jews, who sacrificed lambs for their Passover celebrations). Just as the souvla defined the Greek man, so did the flaounes define the Greek Cypriot Woman. These “cheese pies” are specifically linked to our Orthodox Easter. The basic ingredient of a plethora of assorted cheeses such as haloumi, Romano, Parmesan and even cheddar (sometimes even up to 5 different cheeses that are grated and mixed and left to sit overnight) are mixed with eggs, spices and loads of freshly chopped mint. This forms the filling. Other ingredients include masticha (mastic gum or raisin), mahleb (made from small pits of wild St. Lucy’s cherries), dry mint, oil, salt and sugar and raisins (optional). The greatest debate around the Easter feaster table, yes or no to raisins… This tradition of baking flaounes brings families together at least once a year for a day of baking, along with the traditional Tsoureki (sweet Greek Easter bread) and Koulourakia (a short bread like biscuit). The cracking of the red eggs, plays a significant part of Greek Easter. The red symbolizes the blood and sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the egg symbolizes rebirth.

Orthodox religion observes 40 days of lent (40 days of fasting), which replicates Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. It is a time for reflection and refocus on the spiritual life. Foods that can be eaten during lent include all fish and vegetable oils, seafood and all natural grains. No dairy or meat. Our Orthodox Easter is a time for family and celebration. There is plenty of drinking and eating and a much cherished time that children and adults of all ages look forward to. It is a celebration that has been passed down by many generations in all countries and an important link to our roots. Most of all, it is a time to refocus and connect with our spiritual side and as important, a time to feast on the beautiful food that has been handed down from generations….

KALO PASCHA!

Easter in Israel

By Bossi Mardor – www.bossi.co.il

Easter is celebrated in Israel and throughout the Jewish world as Passover, which is the holiest and most significant holiday for Jews. It is the holiday that symbolizes the departure of the people of Israel from slavery to freedom. Passover is celebrated every year at the end of March / beginning of April, according to the Hebrew calendar, which is not synchronized with the general calendar and therefore takes place every year on a slightly different date. But always close to Easter. Jews all over the world celebrate Passover, which lasts for a week, with the first evening of the holiday having the Seder meal. A meal that is also observed by non-religious and traditional people. The Seder meal, which lasts about 4 hours, begins with the reading of the Haggadah, which tells of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt (2,000 years ago) and continues with a festive and traditional meal for generations.

Israel is a country to which immigrated during the years of its existence, Jews who lived in all corners of the globe (from northern Europe to northern Africa and from the USA to Australia) and therefore the culinary tradition is greatly influenced by their cuisine of origin. On the holiday tables could be served a huge variety of typical traditional dishes that surprise and intrigue the members of the same family who belong to a different community. A common thing, however, for all Jews all over the world is not eating any product made with flour for 7 days. Instead of bread, they eat matzah, a type of flat and crispy bread, and prepare many special dishes for the holiday. Today, non-religious people are less careful about eating matzah, but most restaurants in Israel, including Arab restaurants, do not serve bread, or at least serve matzah as well.

The two holidays – Passover and Easter – also mark the beginning of spring, so many tables around the world offer dishes that include a lot of “greens” – green leaves, herbs and vegetables typical of spring – fresh green garlic, fresh green beans and fava beans, artichokes, green almond and more. On Passover, a lot of lamb is eaten, because it is its high season. Each community has its own typical dishes, such as – People coming from Tripoli (Lybia) serve h’arime (fish in a spicy tomato sauce), mafrum (potatoes or small eggplants stuffed with minced meat in a red sauce). Moroccans will serve tansyia (lamb cooked with cinnamon, apricots and sweet potatoes) or beef patties with chard, green beans and coriander. Jews from Poland who were unfamiliar with Mediterranean agriculture serve chicken soup with kneidlach (matzo balls), gefilte fish (stuffed carp) and tzimmes (sweet carrots braise). Greek and Italian Jewry also have unique dishes for Passover, like lemony artichokes bottoms and Passover moussaka for the Greeks and Carcciofi alla Judia (deep fried artichoke) for the Italians.

Have a look in the recipe section, there is my version of festive leg of lamb and lemon and mint artichokes.

Easter in Egypt

FASTING AND FEASTING OF COPTS (EGYPTIAN CHRISTIANS)

By Nermine Mitry-Mansour – www.cheznermine.com

Celebrating the food heritage of the world minorities brings boundless richness to the culinary map. In this article I am bringing to the limelight the food heritage of Copts or the Egyptian Christian minority that I, an Egyptian-American, proudly hail from. The Copts’ unique food traditions were somehow shaped by their strict adherence to the church fasting and feasting calendar. The Coptic Orthodox church observes lent, a vegan fasting that lasts 55 days prior to Easter. The date of Coptic Easter differs from the Western one and falls on a different date each year. In 2021, Copts celebrate their Easter on May 2nd after almost two months of austerity, where they abstain from all dairy products, all types of meat, fish and seafood. The fasting that is meant to be a spiritual and physical detox, somehow served as a catalyst for homecooks creativity, which explains the rich and replete vegan repertoire of Copts. The Coptic vegan repertoire heavily leverages the nutritional value of legumes, seasonal vegetables, fresh herbs and pungent spices, which makes up for the absence of meat during the fasting period. While the Coptic vegan repertoire is by far the dream of every plant-based believer, the absence of strategic advocacy of this minority’s cuisine has regrettably denied its richly deserved presence on the world map.

Following an Easter liturgy that starts at 6 pm and extends to midnight, Copts break their fast sharing a plethora of meat dishes and a quintessential cold cuts and cheese platter. Meat dishes might vary among families, yet I vividly remember our festive Easter Eve table that my mother used to put together consistently year after year. We always started with an orzo and beef soup, scented with cardamom, mastic and garlic, before moving to the hard core meaty dishes. A large fragrant plate of fatta (layer of vermicelli rice, toasted bread, chunks of poached and browned beef in ghee, all tossed in a pungent garlic, tomato sauce), Kabab Hala (meat stew slowly cooked in a pool of its own velvet sauce enriched by caramelized onions), Mazalika (spicy chicken liver and gizzard), fried Brain pane (with a schnitzel crust and a melt-in-your-mouth creamy interior), just to name a few (see photos below).

As for Easter Day itself, the tradition goes that extended families get together, where each family brings its signature dish. That said, there were many staples that an Easter table would be incomplete without, such as Macarona Bechamel (aka makarona forn), rolled grape leaves, veal schnitzel, stuffed kibbeh (balls of meat that have a crusty gossamer shell of bulgur mixed with meat), and a golden sizable turkey, spiked by a zesty citrus-pomegranate glaze and cooked overnight over a dim oven flame. A puffy pillowy brioche with colorful eggs is the best grand finale to Easter festive dinner. Either feasting or fasting, the Coptic Egyptian repertoire has too much to offer to the world culinary scene.

I do hope that in the near future, we see more coptic and Egyptian diasporan sharing their family signature recipes and unique food traditions with the world.

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