Greek Easter customs on Crete
Red Egg cracking
Red eggs (kokkina avga) are a traditional part of the Greek Easter Sunday celebration. They are lovingly made, either with onion skins or dye and then woven and baked into a tsoureki (three-braided Easter bread signifying the Holy Trinity), used as table decorations, and are the key piece to a fun game called tsougrisma, which tests the eggs' strength—and perhaps the players' strategy.
Everyone selects one egg, carefully choosing the one that seems the strongest. Then the egg cracking begins! One cracks their chosen egg on top of another’s chosen eggs, saying “Christos Anesti” (meaning “Christ has risen”). The other one responds, “Alithos Anesti” (meaning “Indeed, he did!”). Each time there is a winner and a loser. The loser is obviously the one with the cracked egg. The egg cracking keeps on going until there is only one winner- the chosen one with the un-cracked egg! The one with the strongest egg is said the have good luck for the whole year.
The word tsougrisma means "clinking together" or "clashing." In Greek, it is τσούγκρισμα and is pronounced TSOO-grees-mah. The cracking tradition symbolizes Christ's resurrection from the dead and birth into eternal life.
In Greece, red Easter eggs are traditionally dyed on Holy Thursday, but they can be done on any day leading up to Easter Sunday. They are the first food eaten after the strict fasting of Lent in some families, while others enjoy them after dinner when everyone is gathered around the table to play the game.
The red colour symbolizes the blood and sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the egg symbolizes rebirth. The first red egg that is dyed is considered to be the egg of the Virgin Mary and is saved in the home for protection against the evil eye until the next year when a new "first egg" is dyed. Yet others take the egg to the midnight church service on Holy Saturday known as the Anastasi.
On Thursday evening, all of the Greeks prepare for the Holy Weekend. Everybody makes the delicious sweet Easter bread, called Tsoureki (or buys it from the bakery because it’s very difficult).
Church Bells, Flags, Tomb of Jesus
On Good Friday, there is a sombre atmosphere and the church bells ring and flags fly half-mast, and in some villages, a shrine representing the tomb of Jesus is carried in the streets.
Midnight Church Service & Candles
Late on Saturday night, before midnight all the people go to all the churches, which all seem full to bursting. Then follows a festival of light that is a true delight - at midnight the church goes dark and the bells ring out to proclaim the resurrection, and people start cheering and letting off fireworks and crackers! The priest lights a candle representing Jesus’ eternal flame and everyone lights their candle from this one. People carefully carry their candle home and make a black cross on their house with the flame to bless themselves.
After the egg cracking, they start eating the traditional magiritsa! This dish contains the offal of the lamb just before it is roasted, along with some green vegetables (lettuce, dill and onion) boiled together. It is traditional to eat magiritsa because it symbolizes the end of the 40-day fast Greek Orthodox people has right before this day in order to mourn the death of Jesus.
Roasting the Lamb
The Easter Sunday is another day to celebrate. Families gather again before noon to roast the lamb on a spit and then enjoy a long lunch with lots of meat, potatoes, salads and drinks.