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Greek Easter Tsoureki & red Eggs : Ancient era and Christianity “marriage”

At least 95 percent of all Greeks claim membership in the Greek Orthodox Church, part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as the official state of Greece dictates.

Until 1054, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches were one body. Theological, political, and cultural differences split the church in two, and those differences were never completely reconciled. Many Easter traditions originated long before the beginning of the Christian era. Easter is connected in many ways with pagan rituals that accompanied the arrival of spring.

It is possible that the name “Easter” stemmed from that of Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime. Easter is also associated with the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach. The term “paschal”, meaning “of Easter”, is derived from the name of the Jewish festival, as are the names of Easter in some foreign languages. In Greek, Easter is called Pascha, meaning passover: It is the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven.

One of the most characteristic traditions during the Greek Easter is the making of tsoureki and red eggs.

Easter bread Tsoureki or Lampropsomo (bright bread) or lamprokouloura (bright circular bread) is referring to the light Christians believe is given to them by Christ’s resurrection. The tradition of plaiting bread is old; it predates the arrival of the Gospel among the Greeks. While the ancient, pre-Christian Greeks also baked braided breads in order to welcome the awakening of the nature during springtime, the wedding of this symbolism to the Orthodox Christian Calendar and the figure of Jesus Christ is a religious adaptation.

Tsoureki was traditionally prepared with an essence drawn from the seeds of Mediterranean wild cherries, called mahlepi. The bread can also be flavored with mastic, the resin from Pistachia lentiscus, variety of Chios. In more recent years, vanilla-scented tsoureki has also become popular. Tsoureki is sprinkled with nuts, usually slivered, blanched almonds, while is  often decorated on top with spring flowers, leaves, crosses and snakes made of dough.

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The Easter Egg is the other pylon of Greek Easter tradition though is associated with beliefs of particularly ancient origin. The egg was an important symbol in the mythologies of many early civilizations, including those of India and Egypt. It was commonly believed that the universe developed from a great egg and that the halves of its shell corresponded to Heaven and earth. The egg was also connected with the springtime fertility rituals of many pre-Christian and Indo-European peoples, like the old Cretans, and both the Egyptians and the Persians made a practice of coloring eggs in the spring. In Christianity, the egg is a symbol of Resurrection, representing the emergence of Christ from His tomb to everlasting life.

During Easter, Holy Thursday or Red Thursday is the day for dyeing eggs. Greeks mainly color eggs red to signify the blood of Christ, also in commemoration of the Last Supper, the final meal that according to Christian belief Jesus shared with his Apostles in Jerusalem before his crucifixion.

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On holy Saturday, Easter breads and red eggs are placed in baskets and then they are taken to church to be blessed. Some of them will be given as gift  to  godparents from children. In earlier times the newly married women also offered Easter bread to their parents in law.

On Easter Sunday; people tap their eggs against their friends’ eggs and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky.

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