We all have memories of Easter and the way our Greek-American families celebrate it. From the time we can remember, we were taught that Easter (Pascha for the purists) was the most important holy day for the Greeks, which it certainly is. But, to a child, I think Christmas may have an edge up on Easter. Santa brings toys. The Easter Bunny brings stale chocolate bunnies with broken ears (unless Easter falls on the same day as the Catholics). At Christmas there is turkey and ham. On Easter, there is… a dead carcass on the spit and soup made from the guts of that dead carcass. “Fae, pethi mou, ine poli nostimo.” That’s what I use to hear, like it made it better.
Okay, before you start sending your hate mail, let’s get something straight… I love Easter. I respect its religious meaning and traditions and our family traditions. Easter services are the most beautiful and meaningful I have seen. But, let’s face it, being an “American” kid during this time was rough.
My earliest memories of the Easter holiday was starvation. I was repeatedly told that if I ate that hamburger during lent I would suffer eternal damnation. Eternal damnation! Who wants that? But I argued that children, the elderly, and sick were exempt, weren’t they? “Yes,” my mother replied, “but you are 18 years old and in good health!” So I continued to starve. My friends fasted… no meat for 40 days. But they ate a ton of shrimp, lobster, and clams! I’m allergic to that stuff. So while my friends “suffered” during lent by eating the entire Atlantic seabed, I ate faki.
Another fond memory of Easter for me was the annual execution of the lamb. What is Easter without lamb? It’s like St. Patrick’s Day without drunks! Sometime in January, my father would go to the farm in Mt. Holly and pick out a new born lamb and sentence him to death. I think I called the lamb Larry. A few days before Easter, my father, brother and I were off to the farm. Funny, there were no protestors out front with signs against the death penalty and to save Larry. So, the farmer killed Larry (we just didn’t have the heart), and then my father went to work. He cracked the leg, blew into it until it blew up like a balloon and told me to beat it with a stick. I thought he was just joking but it actually separates the skin from the meat.
He then hung it up and took out his scalpels – yes, scalpels. This was no amateur operation. My cousin was a surgeon and he gave us them instead of knives… they are real sharp. Within a short time, he had Larry butchered. We did about 3 lambs for the family. My job, you ask? What else – I cleaned the intestines! For two days, I would open the refrigerator, and there would be a pot of intestines and our little Larry’s skinned head in a pan staring up at me, his tongue hanging out. Ah, memories.
Another Easter memory was explanations. Explaining to your friends why Jesus didn’t rise when the Catholics said he did but when the Greeks said he did; or, why fasting meant no meat for 40 days… not the Catholic way of abstaining from chocolate-covered cherries each Wednesday of Lent; or, that the thing on the spit was Larry the Lamb, not Spot our dog. And, explaining to your friends why the Easter Bunny is better with potatoes, onions, and garlic (stefatho), instead of colored eggs and chocolate!
Before St. Thomas was built, the Jersey Greeks all went to St. George Cathedral in Philadelphia. After Anastasi services on Saturday night, crossing over the Ben Franklin bridge, we could tell who the Jersey Greeks were – they were the only ones driving with lit candles in their cars! We all thought the car would blow up – never happened though. The toll booth collectors use to take our toll money, smile and say “Happy Easter”.
Finally, after Anastasi services, we would go home and eat – Larry. But for me, it was oven roasted potatoes, spanaki, and tsoureki. How could I eat Larry? My father would just look at me, shake his head, and say, “You don’t know how to eat”. He was right. I learned to eat later in life.
Now, we have the pleasure of going to friends and relatives houses for Easter and seeing good ol’ Larry on the spit. Boy, he hasn’t changed in years!
Wishing everyone Kalo Pascha, Kali Anastasi, and enjoy your Larry!
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