I was born on Easter Sunday, so Easter has always held a little extra meaning for me. It’s been years now, since my birthday fell on Easter. But this year, Easter was very special for me because I got to celebrate in many traditional Armenian ways. Although this happened over two weeks ago, I still want to tell you about it.
First of all, Armenians celebrate on both Saturday and Sunday. Laura and I had scheduled an Armenian lesson on the Saturday, not knowing this fact, so it was a great surprise that our Armenian tutor had arranged a traditional Easter meal for us during our lesson.
Some traditional Armenian Easter foods include:
- Rice with raisins and/or other dried fruits in it. Often, they also put a layer of lavash (like soft tortilla shells) under the rice. I like this dish, but would prefer that they prepare it with less oil.
- Dyed hard-boiled Easter eggs. They use boiled onion peels for the red dye, which is very interesting. It takes a lot of peels to make the bright red color, so they start saving the peels for at least a month before Easter.
- A juice made out of re-hydrated dried apricots boiled with sugar water. The apricots have not been de-seeded, so you have to eat around the pits. Then you can crack open the pit and eat the seed inside, which is also very tasty.
- Gata, or other traditional Armenian pastry.
- A “special” vegetarian dolma, if someone in your family has died in the past year. The process for creating it is very time-consuming, and it’s expected that you will make a lot and distribute it to other relatives and neighbors, so you have to make enormous amounts of it.
With the hard-boiled eggs, they play a game. One person holds the egg in their hand, “pointy” side up. The other person, pointy side down, taps on the other egg, trying to crack it. Whoever’s egg doesn’t crack is the winner. On Saturday, every time I played, I lost. But I played again on Sunday with other friends, and I won every time!
Another tradition is Easter grass. They don’t use the fake plastic stuff that we have in the United States. They put wheat seeds in small trays in their window sills about 10 days before Easter, and let the grass grow from the seeds. They they put the eggs and maybe some little plastic chickens in the grass and decorate their tables with it.
On Sunday, Laura and I spent the day going from one Armenian’s house to the next, experiencing their Easter traditions. We had a lot more traditional Armenian food, and played the egg cracking game several times. Then we learned that it’s also a tradition to go to the churches and the little prayer places around town to light candles. We were invited to come along, and were surprised to see all the people out and about! When you go to light candles, you can go to 1, 3, or 7 places, but not any other numbers. (There are apparently over 20 places to go, in and around my small town!) We went to three.
At one place, I walked around the candle-lighting pit 7 times, with a wish in my heart, so that it would come true. At another place, we saw people sacrificing turkeys, another common tradition during Easter in Armenia.
It was a fun two days of Easter, and I’m so glad I got to experience it. I got home on Sunday evening, stuffed to the brim with all the food. As I lay on my couch recovering, there was a knock at my door. It was my neighbor, there to wish me a happy Easter, and bearing a plate of food for me—rice with raisins, lavash, hard-boiled eggs, and gata!
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