Easter in the Balkans
2017 the Christians of the Balkans are having a specific situation where Catholic and Orthodox Easter are celebrating on the same day. The Balkans, although a small part of Europe, is home to three religions – Christian Orthodox, Christian Catholic and Islamic religion.The biggest part of the population is Christian Orthodox.
Christians even though have the same holidays, usually celebrate them on different dates (this is related to the Julian calendar – Christian Orthodox church is using this old calendar, and the Gregorian calendar- Christian Catholic church is using the new calendar).
Easter is one of the most joyful Christian holidays, celebrating the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is celebrated all over the world. This is the biggest Christian tradition beside the Christmas day.
Sometimes like in this year – 2017 – Easter coincides for both Christian religions- Orthodox and Catholic.
Orthodox Easter is celebrated every year at a different time and is one of the so-called ‘movable feast’. The date of Easter is taken to be the first Sunday after the full moon on the day of the vernal equinox or immediately after it.
Each year Orthodox Easter is scheduled for one day in the period from 04 April to 08 May.
This holiday is related to the beautiful traditions in the whole Christian world, and in the Balkans too.
Every part of the world has some specific tradition for Easter but there is one tradition that is the same for all and the most recognizable for this holiday – the custom of giving painted eggs.
The egg is a symbol of the renewal of nature and life and red Easter egg means joy for those who give and those who receive it.
Eggs, according to the established tradition, are painted on Good Friday – The Friday before Easter.
It is an Orthodox family tradition that everyone gathers to paint eggs in the morning on Good Friday, and this is especially interesting for children.
They decorate eggs with glitter, stickers, flower etc.
In the old time, people who were painting the eggs would be adding a little bit of consecrated water in a pot with boiling water (in which eggs are supposed to be cooked and colored).
The first cooked egg is supposed to be red and this one would be saved in the house until the next Easter, to guard the family.
At the begging, it is believed, that only red paint was used to color the eggs. Nowadays all colors are used- the more colors the better. Colorful and decorated baskets are the most beautiful and many families are making them like this for the children.
Good Friday is considered to be the saddest day of Christianity. Good Friday is a Christian holiday, before Easter, marking the sufferings of Jesus Christ, his crucifixion on the Holy Cross and his death for the salvation of the world. On that day church does not serve liturgies (Christian Orthodox prayers including choir singing and church bells). On Good Friday people are fasting.
It is customary that on this day Easter eggs are being painted, usually in red (as mentioned previously), to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ. On Good Friday, people should not sing, should not be joyful, and from Holy Thursday to Easter (Sunday) when according to belief Jesus was resurrected, church is not ringing the bells because – in the Orthodox Church they are a sign of joy- but during sad days, like Good Friday, Orthodox church is using wooden boards to announce the day (those boards are so called ‘klepe’ –used to make noise instead of church bells).
Good Friday is a day for all Christians- both Orthodox and Catholic- of strict fasting and those who follow the rules, in a sign of mourning, prepare food without animal products (except fish which they do eat).
The difference is that Orthodox Christians are not using any animal products – including milk and eggs, and Catholic Christians are only not eating animal meat and do eat all other animal products while fasting. Both Christian religions do eat fish on these holy days, as mentioned above.
Some people choose total abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a period of 24 hours, or even a number of days in respect of the upcoming holiday.
The whole point of fasting is to clean the body and the soul. Not just by not eating the usual food, but people should be fasting by not thinking badly about the others and about themselves, they should clean thoughts and emotions as well as the body.
Orthodox Christians in the Balkans believe that on Good Friday people should not do anything around the household- no cleaning, no works in the field, or work at all – they try to remain as calm and as slow as they can in respect of the following holiday. They gather at home and prepare all the details for Easter day.
For Orthodox Easter, the family goes to church for Easter service. After the service, people greet each other: “Christ is risen!” and the answer to that I “Indeed He is risen!”
When family comes home from church, all the family members greet each other and kiss each other. The eldest man lights a candle and after that all family members stand in prayer, one person goes with burning incense through every room in the house, asking for a blessing. All together family members say a prayer that they know by heart, or they read one from a prayer book. After common prayer, again, they congratulate each other Easter and sit for the ceremonial feast.
That marks the begging of one of the most joyful holidays for the whole family and that is when the laughter and noise starts.
Children can’t wait for their Easter fun to begin – cracking eggs and unwrapping chocolate bunnies.
Bunnies are the western symbol for Easter that somehow became a part of Orthodox Easter too; this is all a part of children’s Easter joy.
Many eggs are painted for Orthodox Easter, and there is a reason for that. Everyone takes one egg and then cracks it– egg on egg. The one who wins with uncracked egg continues the ‘battle’ with other people and, again, this is especially fun for children. If the winning egg gets cracked new one is chosen and the game goes all over again.Sometimes kids cheat and use wooden egg, but it is all part of Easter fun.
During the whole Easter day, the family is together in love and peace and days like this are especially precious and cherished among all Christians.