It is told, that in a time long ago, among the rock-strewn hills of Greece, a young woman was seen walking to market, carrying a basket of eggs she’d collected. The hems of her skirts were dusty. Her shoulders were stooped, her step was slow and heavy. Her face bore a great sadness. A group of men passing by stopped to ask, with concern, “Why so sad, lady?”
“Have you not heard?” she answered, surprised at their ignorance. “Christ our Lord has died and been buried!”
“Have YOU not heard?!” they asked, amazed.”Christ was buried, but He has risen!”
“Risen? from death? This can’t be! If you speak the truth, may these eggs I carry turn red!” And before her very eyes, they did. Her basket of pearl white eggs had suddenly turned brilliant scarlet. And she, now believing the news she’d been given, exclaimed, “He has risen! Indeed, He has risen!” And she ran home to tell the news.
“Χριστοσ Ανεστο!” (Christos anesti!)
Our father grew up, and married our mother, in the Greek Orthodox Church. Up until the time they married, Easter at our house was overseen by the big Bunny, who, along with whichever of his assistants he called upon, hid the eggs and filled our baskets with jelly beans, chocolates and crayons. We loved it – of course. But when our Dad entered our lives, carrying with him his wonderful Greek traditions and the stories to explain them, suddenly, Easter had a meaning. In Greek culture, traditions around Easter are especially rich. As our Yaya would say to Mom, “Is not so big Jesus was born, Ruth. Is big He rose!” Of all the Saints’ Days and all the other religious holidays they celebrate, without question, Easter is supreme. There’s no holiday more festive, more family-oriented, nor is there one in which the people feast as long, as much and as happily as they do on Greek Easter.
Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church frequently falls on a date different than the one on most calendars, so our family celebrated twice!
Only some of the traditions made their way into our lives, but those traditions have stuck, now into the fourth generation since Yaya. And the Scarlet Egg from the story plays a starring role.
First, let me begin by saying, it’s no small feat to turn a white egg scarlet. You may get a lovely shade of bright pink, but honestly, are we impressed? In a photo below, you’ll see the packet of dye I used this year. I picked it up at the local Greek deli (Foti’s in Portland) where our Dad used to buy the feta and olive oil, and where my brother and I sometimes have lunch. When I left the shop with the packet of dye in hand, the owner wished me good luck! And I knew what he meant. As important as it is that the eggs be red, the real challenge is yet to come!