What is Easter like in Georgia?
Easter is a special and one of the most beloved holidays in Georgia. Many Christian nations across the world mark this celebration, yet every country has its particular rituals and traditions related to Easter and Georgia is no exception from this point of view.
In Georgia every household starts preparing for Easter one week earlier. The holiday marks the end of 40 day Great Feast, correspondingly, every family dyes eggs in red, grows sprouts, bakes paska (Easter sweet bread) and prepares traditional Georgian dishes. As a rule, this is the day when family members and relatives gather and congratulate one another on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead by telling each other following phrases: “Christ has risen!” – “Kriste aghdga!”, “Indeed he has risen!” – “Cheshmaritad aghdga!”
In comparison with Catholic world, where eggs are dyed in different colors and decorated with various patters, here eggs are mostly dyed in red and sometimes decorated with white patterns and crosses. Red egg is the main attribute of Easter since it symbolizes the blood and sacrifice of Christ for humanity’s sins. Additionally, egg is thought to symbolize the eternal life. Eggs are usually dyed on Red Friday or Good Friday using madder roots and onion peels that give different flavor and taste to the egg. Another distinctive tradition related to Easter is egg tapping, also known as egg knocking that is still observed in Georgia. In this traditional Easter game, the winner is whose egg turns out to be stiffer and doesn’t break. Whereas in Catholic countries kids’ favorite activity is Easter egg hunt (searching for hidden eggs in the fields), Georgian children enjoy competing by breaking and then eating hardboiled red-dyed eggs.
After maintaining a long fast, majority of Georgians go to the church and attend special service at night, so called Litanioba, to obtain the Holy Fire from Jesus Christ’s tomb that is brought from Jerusalem by a special delegation. As a rule, the parishioners lit their candles or lamps and bring the fire to their houses at dawn.
Paska is another inseparable attribute of Easter. It is delicious sweet bread with cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins that serves as a symbol of Golgotha, the mountain where Christ was crucified. So few days ahead before the Easter approaches the streets are filled with an incredible aroma of these delicious cakes coming out from the bakeries and houses. Even though Paska is available in every shop or bakery, many housewives prefer to bake it by themselves. Yet baking the right Easter cake, it is quite a difficult and time-consuming process that requires great patience and love.
Growing wheat is another must do ritual on Easter that besides Georgia is observed in other countries as well. In Georgia wheat is sowed one week before Easter, so that the green sprout (Jejili in Georgian) looks fresh and beautiful for the celebration. Jejili serves as a perfect decoration for the festive table (supra) as well as symbolizes the new life.
Yet the most interesting part of Easter celebration in Georgia is visiting graveyards and congratulating the loved ones who have passed away on this day. For many foreigners it might seem quite a strange tradition, but it is the time of the year when the living ones unite with the ones they have lost and pay respect to their souls. According to the country’s clergy, visiting graveyards is only allowed on the first Monday after Easter, yet some Georgians visit their departed ones on Sunday as well and congratulate them Easter by bringing red eggs, paska, wine and lighting candles.