Orthodox Easter 02-05-2021
Together with Christmas, Easter is the most important holiday that Christians in Macedonia and all over the world celebrate with great joy and delight. It is a feast that is meant to be celebrated with family and loved ones, because it fosters love, happiness and well-being. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the belief that he has risen from the dead and continues to help people and do good deeds.
However, it is a moving feast and it does not happen on the same date every year, but always on the first Sunday after the full moon falls on or after the vernal equinox (21 March). Yet Easter is not celebrated by all Christians on that date because most use the new Gregorian calendar, while the Eastern Orthodox use the older Julian calendar to calculate the date of Easter.
In Macedonia, Orthodox Christians prepare for this holiday several weeks earlier and preparations include a 40-day period of fasting, prayer and penance.
It is believed that Jesus spent 40 days in a dessert fasting and praying, therefore Orthodox Christians dedicate the fasting period to God and show repentance and a high degree of self-discipline, avoiding foods such as meat, eggs, milk or any other food derived from an animal source. Of these forty days, the most important are the last seven days, also called Holy Week, which are in fact the last seven days of the life of Jesus.
Thursday stands out the most because it is the day when the Last Supper took place and Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of his twelve Apostles, so on Maundy Thursday Christians in Macedonia and around the world avoid eating meat and prefer to eat green food. Given the importance of this holiday, the locals have adopted many rituals and customs that sometimes even seem strange to foreigners, but in fact represent their devotion. The lady of the house in a Macedonian Christian family has several tasks to perform and the most important one is to dye eggs. The egg is a symbol of new life, so early in the morning on Maundy Thursday she wakes up before sunrise and paints three eggs red, which means the blood of Christ. The first three eggs are the most important. The first is dedicated to Jesus, the second is for the head of the household and the third egg is for rest and health. Before dying the eggs, the housewife should not be hungry, as it is believed to bring bad luck and disease. When the three eggs are ready, the first one is placed by a door or window facing east, so that when the sun rises it shines on them with the rays of God.
On Maundy Thursday, the housewives prepare all the food necessary to keep the family going throughout the holy weekend. Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified, so Christians in Macedonia eat nothing but fruit, vegetables and nuts, even fish and oil are omitted, expressing a deep faith in God and Christianity.
One of the perhaps strangest rituals takes place on Saturday evening when people prepare to go to church. They use the first dyed red egg together with a local plant called zdravec and a raw white egg to wash the sins off their faces. At midnight on Saturday night, everyone gathers around the local church, candles in hand, while the priests say the last prayers that mark the resurrection of Jesus. When the clock strikes midnight everyone greets each other with the phrase "Christ has risen" - "He has risen indeed". After the greeting, people proceed to tap eggs, which symbolises the resurrection of Christ from the grave and breaks the fast.
On Sunday, the house is ready for guests and traditional Macedonian dishes are prepared for the celebration of Easter. Traditionally, there is the Easter bread with a red-painted egg in the middle, lamb soup, sarma, salads and delicious cakes.
Easter is one of the most important holidays in Macedonia, when in every house you will find delicious dishes prepared by the housewife and painted red eggs that signify the blood of Christ. People enjoy this day with the whole family and share love, respect and happiness.
"Christ is risen" - "He has risen indeed".