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Monday, April 18, 2011

Greek Easter & Passover: Sharing Food and Feud

Traditional family holidays meant sharing food with a dash of feud.

I have memories of Easter with my original family and Passover with my acquired family.

Just as they gathered annually to celebrate their respective religious beliefs and distinctive holiday dishes, they also shared their personal differences.

My Greek relatives took turns hosting holidays: Christmas at our house; Thanksgiving at my uncle’s; and Greek Easter at my aunt’s home in Chicago’s South Shore. Greek Easter is typically celebrated the week after American Easter.

I recall entering my aunt’s house exclaiming, “Christos Anesti,” (Christ is Risen), hugging my cousins and enjoying the warmth of family bonds, celebrating our reunion since our last holiday together.

Like my Catholic friends, it was our tradition to fast before Easter and then gorge ourselves during a huge feast on Greek Easter Sunday.

Greek Easter was a banquet of mouthwatering spring lamb, mounds of creamy mashed potatoes, authentic Greek salad tossed with black olives and feta cheese accompanied by a bounty of side dishes laden across a long, narrow dinner table. I always tried to sit next to my handsome blonde, blue-eyed cousin who I had a secret crush on.

We crowded around, eagerly gobbling the women's speciality dishes to compensate for our week of  fasting. Though we stuffed ourselves, we always left room for the desserts, including baklava and my favorite powdered-sugar cookies (kourembiathes). And of course, the adults drank ouzo, Greek liqueur.

We looked forward to these family events with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension.

What would our cousins look like since Christmas? What was the latest gossip? At what point would our mother and her brother have their annual argument which was part of the holiday ritual as well?

They had fought for many years, and a truce of sorts was declared for the sake of family during the holiday meals. The peace lasted throughout dinner; and then, on cue, the predictable and loud argument erupted.

They had contrary opinions on just about everything, and neither would give in to the other and remained in a resentful standoff until the next family gathering.

This "feud" ritual  following the hearty, celebratory meal would be re-enacted at the next family holiday dinner.

We cousins understood these family feuds and looked forward to being together for the future disarmament at Thanksgiving or Christmas. The coolness would last until then.

After my marriage, my Easters became Passovers.

For me, Passover rituals seemed solemn compared to the joyous Easters I remembered. During the Seder, we gathered to honor Jewish liberation from persecution and their suffering while enslaved.

All the dishes served had symbolic meanings, and the elders read passages to accompany foods that represented those difficult times.

I participated in the ceremony out of respect for my in-laws but couldn't identify with the occasion.

I couldn’t relate to the unappetizing gefilte fish, unleavened bread and bitter herbs. I came from another tribe and heritage.

I missed the celebration of my original family’s Easter holiday, even with my mother and her brother sniping at each other.

Though the traditions represented a contrast of cultures, customs and foods, the families did have some other "rituals" in common.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law didn’t get along either, and their cold silences were felt by everyone throughout these obligatory occasions.

The official Passover ritual was strained by their dislike for each other. It, too, was predictable like my mother and my uncle.

It wasn’t expressed loudly like my Greek relatives. After the meal, the women separated from the men and gathered in the kitchen.

By this time, they could no longer tolerate being around each other. The dispute would be acted out as criticism and complaining usually over small things.

Like my original family, my acquired family understood these matters and accepted them. It was part of the ritual of sharing food and feud. Pass the lamb and gefilte fish. Opah! Oy Vey!

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sweet by Yucel Tellici

Matzah for Passover photo by Alex Ringer

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog-I'm now following you and look forward to more posts.

    Regards, Mari