My fondest and most vibrant childhood memories are almost always centered around my family’s Easter preparations and celebrations. So many emotions come flooding back with a mere glimpse of all the women in the family gathered around the kitchen table making koulourakia on Holy Monday; with all the children coloring eggs in vibrant primary colors as used in Greece early on Holy Thursday; with the entire family getting ready to walk over to our church on Good Friday to follow the procession of the “Epitaphio”; with the men carrying in the baby lamb on Great and Holy Saturday; with the aroma–oh that aroma!–of the lamb roasting away in the oven from late afternoon on Great Saturday through to Easter Sunday; and with the entire family standing outside the church courtyard Saturday night until midnight, the flame from the church altar making its way down to all the faithful gripping their lambades/candles and singing the Easter hymn, “Christos Anesti.”
These are among my most sacred memories and just a few of the highlights of our preparations for Pascha … I hope to describe more of our traditions and customs throughout the coming week. For today, however, I would like to share the tradition of Lazarakia, Lenten breads flavored with cinnamon and cloves.
On the Saturday before Holy Week, the Orthodox Church observes a feast commemorating the miracle performed by Christ in raising Lazarus from the dead. As such, families partake in a tradition of kneading and baking Lenten breads shaped into small men symbolizing Lazarus. I can still clearly recall sitting as a young girl near my Giagia as she kneaded and punched the cinnamon-scented dough and then rolled it out into little Lazarakia. She would slice the dough in the middle towards the bottom to create two legs; then slice on either side of the torso to create two arms which she’d wrap towards the front and secure with a clove; lastly she’d roll out a ball to form the head, roll out a thin rope to wrap around the head as a headdress and place two cloves as Lazarus’ eyes. She’d then cover the baking sheets with clean blankets and let the breads rise before baking.
I made our Lazarakia this morning with my daughter and son beside me–my daughter rolling out her own dough and my son handing me the cloves as needed. Memories of my Giagia filled my head and I’m sure she was looking down on us with a smile just then.
Hronia Polla kai Kali Anastasi!
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