Lockdown diaries: My big fat isolated Greek Orthodox Easter

It's a time of togetherness and tradition, faith and family.
It's a time of togetherness and tradition, faith and family.

For the estimated 138 000 Greeks living in South Africa, the weekend of 18 and 19 April 2020 is Easter.

This is because the Greek Orthodox church sets their Easter date based on the Julian calendar, which differs slightly from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many other faiths.

Ever since I married into the Greek community (six years ago, this month) I've been warmly welcomed with open arms.

The church, the community and the large extended families took some getting used to, but now I feel at home in all of these spaces.

My children and I were christened into the Greek Orthodox faith, and we attend as often as we can. 

But we always go at Easter.

One of my favourite times of year is over this weekend when we all gather at our beautiful Greek Orthodox church, packed in tightly with our candles (tie up your hair ladies!) to observe, and then celebrate that Christ has risen.

After church we gather at family homes for celebratory meals, and Sunday afternoon is reserved for huge lunches of spit-roasted lamb, as exclamations of "Christos Anesti!" (he is risen) followed by the reply "Alithos Anesti" (truly he is risen) are shared.

It's a time of togetherness and tradition, faith and family. 

This year, not so much.

Church is online. Families are separated by screens.

The sights are not the same, the sounds are diluted and the smell of incense and magiritsa (Easter soup) is entirely missing from our home. 

My three year old has started complaining that we're keeping him from his Yiayia (grandmother). He stamps his little foot and exclaims angrily "Why me no see yiayia so long time?!"

I miss her too, my boy. 

Coming together, apart 

The Covid-19 pandemic, and subsequent lockdowns in many countries, has changed how we celebrate, but nonetheless, around the world, the Greek community is still uniting from their living rooms and kitchens. 

As every Greek knows, their ancestors were oppressed by the Turkish Empire for 400 years, from 1453 until the successful Greek War of Independence overthrew the oppressors in 1821, but they kept their traditions and faith alive throughout. 

So it'll take more than a virus to stop us from celebrating Easter in 2020. 

Keeping traditions alive

In my own home, we're dying eggs and will be attempting (for only the second time) to make the traditional sweet bread called tsoureki.

Easter eggs are dyed red, in the Greek tradition, to represent the blood of Christ. The egg itself symbolises the empty tomb from which Jesus Christ arose after Ηis Crucifixion. 

The eggs are boiled, and then steeped in a special red dye. If the dye is unavailable, then onion skins can be used to get the same deep red colour. 

I think I have some of the dye left over from last year somewhere round here. 

The sweet Easter bread called tsoureki takes time and effort to make, but is well worth it.

Thanks to our government mandated confinement this year, we've mastered the art of bread making, and my husband is keen to try his hand at kneading up a few loaves of our favourite Easter treat with the kids this weekend.

Every year the kids receive a beautifully decorated Easter candle from their Nona and Nono (godparents), which they proudly carry to church and light with the Holy Light. 

This year there are no highly anticipated deliveries, but we will decorate the simple candles we have on hand for loadshedding evenings, with what we have at home, and they will be just as special. 

Many families have built and decorated their own Epitaphios at home this year.

This is the altar carrying an icon of Christ after he was removed from the cross, which is beautifully decorated with flowers, and then carried out of the church on Friday night, and around the neighbourhood, followed by often hundreds of churchgoers. 

This is one of my favourite Greek Easter occasions, and I'll miss it this year. 

Of course, Easter is about a lot more than the food and flowers, but without the church and the extended family, it's about all I can do with my kids to teach them about this special time.

We'll read bible stories, light candles, log in to Divine Liturgy and call close family.

And we'll miss everyone that little bit more. 

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