The religious significance of lamb began in the Old Testament, particularly in Genesis, when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son.
Abraham obediently obeyed God and made his preparations for his sacrifice. When Isaac saw what his father was doing he asked, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Though Abraham didn’t really want to, he was willing to do what God wanted him to do. When God saw that he was willing to obey, He told Abraham to stop. Abraham sacrificed a nearby lamb, instead. In the Old Testament, lambs were offered as a sacrifice to God to atone for their sins.
The lamb continued to play a centric role to the biblical Exodus story, to the first Passover of the Jewish people. According to, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, while Jews painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their homes while carrying out the punishment.
From that moment on, it became a custom to the Jews to sacrifice a lamb in the course of the Passover festival. As Hebrews converted to Christianity, they naturally brought along their traditions with them. They associated the sacrifice of the lamb with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In that sense, they connected the joyous Passover festival, which commemorates the liberation of the Hebrews from their years of bondage in Egypt, with the liberation from death represented by the Resurrection.
John, the author of one of the four Gospels, called Jesus the Lamb of God. Because Christ died on the cross for our sins, he became the sacrificial lamb. During the next 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. Since Pascha, or Easter, is the day where we commemorate Jesus’s sacrifice, we eat lamb in remembrance of this selfless act.
On a less symbolic note, lamb would have been one of the first fresh meats available after a long winter with no livestock to slaughter.
The Greek celebration
On Holy Saturday, Greeks all over the world are busy preparing the lamb for the Easter feast the next day.
Traditional magiritsa recipe is the dinner prepared and served in almost every household in Greece at this day. The authentic magiritsa recipe is designed to use the leftover parts of the lamb so that nothing went to waste. Magiritsa is served after the midnight church services to break the 40 day Great Lent period and is considered to be best meal after the fasting period to gradually ease your digestive system back into its meat eating habits.
During the lamb cooking preparation, 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. The method for preparing the lamb depends on the family and what region of Greece they are from.
By far, the most common way for Greeks to cook the lamb is by placing it whole on a souvla, or spit. This meal typically takes place on Pascha or Easter. The whole country does this, every family, hence, everywhere you find a very thick smoke and smell.