Spring & Easter Traditions Across The Mediterranean

The beginning of spring is also a time of Easter – the holiest holiday for all Christians. Many popular customs and traditions still bear the mark of pre-Christian symbolism of springtime as a beginning of the new agricultural year. The opulence and fortune we wish for is mirrored in our festive tables and traditions we share throughout the whole Mediterranean basin. Sometimes the traditions are very different while also quite similar in their displays of spring richness and festive atmosphere. Games with colored eggs are just one of them. 

Festive Table In Greek Orthodox Easter Tradition

Among many traditions related to Easter there is the much loved game the ‘tsougrisma’ which begins when people break each other’s red eggs by hitting them against one another. The person with the strongest egg is said to have good luck for the whole year. The traditional saying is “You close your mouth with an egg when lent starts and open it with an egg when it finishes.” The first meal after Lent is usually the traditional Easter soup (mayiritsa), eaten after church.

Holy Easter is usually celebrated in the countryside because nature is in full bloom and ‘spring is sweet’. Red Easter eggs, spit-roasted or oven-cooked goat or lamb, oven-cooked potatoes, stuffed vine leaves, cheese pies, spinach pies, feta cheese, as well as other Greek products and Greek Easter treats, like ‘kokoretsi’ (a dish consisting of lamb or goat intestines wrapped around seasoned offal, including sweetbreads, hearts, lungs, or kidneys, and typically grilled), are definitely on the menu. 

Roasting the lamb in religious symbolism goes back to the Old Testament when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham humbly obeyed and began preparing for the 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?” Although Abraham acted with a heavy heart, still he could not disobey God’s order. When God saw Abraham’s faith, He ordered him to stop and sacrifice a nearby ram instead.

On that special day, brothers and sisters, cousins, parents, and grandparents – the whole kinfolk – gather together. Traditional Greek folk music can be heard everywhere and people indulge in lots of food while drinking and dancing all day long. It’s the perfect chance for family members to reunite!

Learn more about Greek Orthodox Easter traditions here. 

Spring Rituals On Easter Tables Of The Croatian Coast

Easter traditions on the Croatian coast and islands are part of the rich Mediterranean heritage. As it is the time of the year when we welcome springtime, warm weather and the start of the new agricultural cycle, everything served on our tables should mirror abundance and fertility. The roots of many traditions still alive today are found in pre-Christian times and spring rituals for prosperity. 

Easter is the only time of the year where breakfast is the most important meal, with cooked ham, cheese, colored eggs, and special types of bread. Convivial tables for lunch are served with lamb meat and young green vegetables such as spring onions and radishes. But the centerpiece of the Easter table on the eastern Adriatic is a special type of sweet, spiced bread called differently throughout the region – pinca, pinica, maslenica, sirnica, pogača… It is a bread whose taste resembles cake because it is made from rich dough with eggs, milk, and butter, spiced up with orange and lemon zest, and sometimes aromatized with rose water or maraschino (brandy made from a special sort of sour cherries maraška). Before baking, the round loaf is cut with scissors in the form of a cross and coated with egg yolks and chunks of sugar cubes. The richness of pinca, forbidden during Lent, is its golden yellow color that reflects sunny days yet to come.

In different parts of eastern Adriatic Easter bread come in various forms, sometimes in the shape of a dove or three loaf braid decorated with an egg on one end. It wasn’t unusual for these pastries to be gifts for children, in the shape of braids or babies for girls and round buns, little horses or bows and arrows for boys. On the island of Brač girls used to give similar pastries called garitula, decorated with whole eggs, to young men they liked. The sweetness and scent of this marvelous type of bread mark the Easter holidays more than anything else so why shouldn’t you try to make it yourself?!

It’s Easter Time!: Religious, Folkloristic, And Tasteful Traditions On Cilento’s Tables

The Easter tradition is one of the oldest. Rich in symbolism and expectation, it is also expressed in culinary culture. 

The Easter tradition contains evocative symbols with strong cultural, religious, and social value in the Cilento region. Lamb, wheat, rice, milk, and eggs are just a few of the elements that, reinvented by the population, determined the transition from beliefs and the spiritual world to a materiality in the shape of food.

In the churches of Cilento, the visit to the ‘sepulchers’ is traditional, reached by the ‘congregations’ with long chants and prayers; to prepare and decorate them, there is a widespread custom of using ears of corn. 

Holy week opens with Palm Sunday. This is the day on which parmarieddi are brought to the tables: a special type of pasta whose shape and name have a triple meaning: the palm, symbol of peace; the palm of the hand shaping the dough, symbol of work; the palm as a unit of measurement, symbol of wheat and rebirth.

On Good Friday, the bells do not ring as a sign of mourning, which is why it is customary to ring the ‘taroccole’, traditional folk instruments made entirely of wood, through the streets of the villages. This day, which marks the death of Christ, is deeply connected with ancient customs, still in use today, such as preparing pizza cu l’erva. The simple combination of water, flour and lard comprise the most basic recipe for the dough. The filling is made from wild herbs, typical of Cilento and the Mediterranean Diet, such as borage and chicory. The task was, and remains, entrusted to the elders, the greatest connoisseurs of this endemic wealth. The more modern version uses garden vegetables: mainly chard and escarole. To these are added pitted black olives and salted anchovies.

The pizza chiena, typical of Easter Sunday, is perhaps the most elaborate and rich preparation. The filling has several variations: fresh and mature buffalo cheese from Campania and cold cuts such as bacon and sausage are mixed in an egg mixture. 

Among the various symbols of Cilento tradition is the egg, which represents the meaning of life, is recalled both in the form of the pizza chiene con il riso (a pizza made with rice) and in the past in the viccillu cu l’uovo (later replaced by the Easter egg): ‘Bread dough plaited with an egg in the middle, representing the unborn child, was given to a loved one on Holy Saturday morning. 

Food traditions and regularly occurring festivities – Portugal/Tavira

The connection between food and festivities is clear to see in the social history of humankind.  Festivities are an important feature of Mediterranean cultures. 

Every season of the year has its own specific agricultural tasks and seasonal foods. This is why there are so many regularly occurring festivities and culinary events, which provide the opportunity to sample fresh seasonal products and dishes prepared especially for the occasion.

As a cultural phenomenon, the festivities correspond to special occasions when tools are downed and celebrations, rituals, artistic performances and games take their place. Food plays a very important role in such events. 

Portuguese Easter traditions commonly saw the parish priest paying a visit to his parishioners’ homes, where he would be greeted with the “Father’s Easter cake,” as well as other types of food. In Portugal, the traditional Easter cake, called folar, is a dry cake made with flour, eggs, milk, sugar and yeast, and often flavored with spices. There is a huge variety of different types of folar up and down the country and it is most commonly eaten on Easter Sunday.

In Tavira, the celebrations for Lent include various social and customary practices, highlights being the commemorative religious processions on Good Friday and Palm Sunday. In Portugal, these religious acts became established in the 15th and 16th centuries and are now an integral part of the traditional Holy Week celebrations.