South Caucasus: Celebrating Easter in Armenia
Around the world, Christians celebrate the holiest and most sacred day in the liturgical calendar: Easter.
Western Christians observe the day in 2019 on Sunday, April 21st, while for most Orthodox Christians Easter is a week later in 2019.
The South Caucasus country of Armenia has its own unique Easter celebrations and traditions. Its liturgical history is long, having been the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD.
Easter Traditions in Armenia
Amy Stidger, MIR’s Sales/Client Services Specialist, experienced Armenian Easter (Zatik) firsthand while living in Yerevan for a year.
As in the Americas and Europe, Armenians observe Easter according to the Gregorian calendar (April 1st), not the Julian calendar that is used in Eastern Orthodox countries. One difference that Amy noted was on Palm Sunday. There are no palms.
“Instead they pass out willow branches,” Amy remembers. “The church blesses these branches and you’re supposed to keep them until next Easter, each year replacing the old branch with a new one.”
“With Easter, everything symbolizes something: Easter cake with white frosting symbolizes purity. Traditional dishes of fish, rice pilaf with raisins, cooked and raw greens, and lavash (Armenian bread) are on every table to represent some aspect of Easter or the Christian religion. There’s also a rich Easter bread called choreg topped with sesame seeds that’s popular. These foods all have meaning. Actually, in Armenia everything symbolizes something!”
(click on photo for larger version)
The equivalent of the Easter bunny in the States, ladybugs are a ubiquitous Easter symbol, adorning tables, cakes, and eggs. In Amy’s home some Easter eggs were dyed red using the traditional method of immersing them in an infusion of red onion skins – representing the blood of Christ – while others were shrink-wrapped with elaborate decorations, as is often done in the States. A favorite egg-tapping game is played by children and adults alike.
“You hold a hard-boiled egg upright, the other person holds their egg upright, and you tap their egg. If you crack the other person’s eggshell first without breaking your own, you win and get their egg. You keep doing this until the person with the most eggs wins.”
Celebrating Easter, Twice
Amy experienced two Easter celebrations with her Armenian host family: one in the city at their Yerevan apartment, and the other with relatives at their country homes in nearby Oshakan.
“The families of my host father and host mother lived a few blocks apart from each other in Oshakan, so there was a big crowd,” Amy laughed, noting that many Armenians tend to stay in the same town they grew up in, with family and relatives an integral part of their lives.
Amy also remembered all the traditional food served for the two Easter meals, with her host family’s finest china and crystal set out for this festive day.
“We had rice with raisins as a special Easter dish. It was served with beet salad as well as fresh and cooked bitter greens. The traditional main Easter dish is fish, not lamb. It was served with the head on – lots of bones! There were also lots of peppers, vegetables, cheese, and lavash on the table.
Amy’s host family didn’t attend Easter service, but she and several relatives did take an afternoon springtime walk to the local church in Oshakan – as did the rest of the village, it seemed. Why? It’s tradition to light a candle at church on Easter.
“People were everywhere! It was just a tiny church where you go inside and light a candle. But there were so many candles – no space to put them! It was almost a carnival atmosphere outside, with vendors selling popcorn and toys. Everything was so festive, with people greeting each other with ‘Christ is risen’ (Krisdos haryav ee merelotz) and answering ‘Blessed is the resurrection’ (Orhnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosee).”
Amy’s advice to travelers who want to experience Easter in Armenia:
“Do a home visit and be part of the Easter celebration. With a homestay you can see how Armenians prepare for Easter and take part in their traditions. Go to church. Join the family and relatives; Easter is so much about being together. It’s definitely different than the States – no Easter egg hunts or Easter candy. Armenian food is so fresh and organic, and plentiful on Easter. It’s truly a celebration – a very long and happy celebration!”
Travel to South Caucasus with MIR
Travel and tour around Armenia and the other South Caucasus countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, on these small group tours:
You can also opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on one of MIR’s private independent trips or on a private journey of Armenia, customized to your desired dates and style.
Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-800-424-7289 to start planning your travels now.
(Photo credit: Eggs take a front-and-center role at Easter, and Armenia is no exception. Photo credit: Amy Stidger)
PUBLISHED: April 3, 2015