Red Eggs and Graveyard Feasts: How Georgia Celebrates Easter
09 April, 2015
Red Eggs and Graveyard Feasts: How Georgia Celebrates Easter
Easter, the biggest holiday of the Christian world, is celebrated in every country that follows the Christian faith. In Georgia, people meet this holiday with the most festive mood and the most industrious preparation. Members of every household go to obtain madder roots and onion peels, the combination of which gives Easter eggs, which are traditionally dyed on Red Friday, their trademark vermilion color. Eggs themselves symbolize Christ’s rebirth and eternal life.

“While conducting these age-old rituals, few people ever
wonder why is it specifically on Easter that people visit graveyards, bringing red-dyed eggs.”

Another traditional Easter food is paska, a special kind of bread, baking of which requires a lot of time, effort, patience and, of course, love. Even though dyeing eggs and baking paska is a common tradition across the Orthodox Christian world, Georgia also possesses its own peculiar set of Easter geotv.getraditions, which are followed with utmost meticulousness.
For Georgians living abroad, Easter is the time to return to their homeland (if they can), because this is a celebration for not only their entire families, but also for all their departed relatives. This tradition is so deeply rooted that while conducting the age-old rituals, few people ever wonder why is it specifically on Easter that people visit graveyards, bringing red-dyed eggs. The clergy, despite regularly warning people that for the entire week after Easter souls of the dead feast and celebrate together with the living and visiting graveyards is only allowed on the second Tuesday after the holiday, has also failed to influence the tradition in any meaningful way. Thus, the church decided to compromise, allowing to people visit the graves on the first Monday after Easter. To this day, however, many Georgians pay respects to their departed relatives on both Sunday and Monday, bringing, as tradition dictates, offerings colored in red: dyed eggs, red wine, meat dishes and sweets. Some also bring khachapuri and pastry.
Since Easter marks the resurrection of Christ, which in turn symbolizes eternal life, a Georgian should celebrate the holiday with his entire family, both living and not. This is the reason why you will not see sad faces at the graveyards on that day: People go there not to mourn their departed kin but to reunite with them.

“The Georgian tradition of a graveyard feast is often incomprehensible or unsettling to foreigners.”

geotv.geIn a sense, graveyards hold a sacral meaning for Georgians. When the communists declared war on churches and destroyed many of them, Georgians went to graveyards to pray instead. Sconces began decorating the gravestones, since anyone who went to pray would always light a candle as a sign of respect to the souls of the dead. This tradition remained even after communist rule had dissolved, when church services were no longer confined to the underground.
Upon coming to the graveyard after Easter, visitors light a candle at the gravestone and roll a red egg across the grave with an exclamation “Christ has risen! Indeed he has risen!” After the ritual is performed thrice, a feasting table is set up, at which the visitors raise drinks to the departed.
Many Georgians have a tradition of burying their dead relatives in the countryside, usually in the village or town where they were born. This is why many city-dwellers head to the country after Easter – to visit the place that their ancestors hail from.
The Georgian tradition of a graveyard feast is often incomprehensible or unsettling to foreigners. Those who attend such events either take photos amusedly or just stare in astonishment. This tradition is in sharp contrast with the usual doleful emotions one associates with the graveyard: Instead of crying and mourning, people are happy to once again sit at the table with relatives who have long ago passed away. And for a few hours or so, the boundary between the living and the dead – between life and afterlife – fades away.
When drinking to the dead, a portion of the wine is traditionally poured on the grave – Georgians call that “knocking over a goblet.” By doing so, the Georgians foster and express hope that they will not be alone in the afterlife and that their contact with the world of the living will not break because every Easter their living relatives will visit their resting places and feast alongside them.
geotv.geThe most important part of the Easter celebration is the Holy Fire that the entire Orthodox world, including Georgian Christians, is awaiting. The miracle occurs every year at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on Great Saturday, or Holy Saturday - the day preceding Orthodox Easter. Many parishioners attend the event or observe the occasion on TV. After the descent of the Holy Fire from Jesus Christ’s tomb, Georgians go to the church at night to attend the celebratory service and the religious ritual called Litanioba, They also obtain the holy fire that is directly brought from Jerusalem by a special delegation. On this day the parishioners traditionally receive the Eucharist and congratulate each other on Easter after maintaining the Great Fast for 40 days. Breaking each others’ red eggs at the festive table is another common tradition that every Georgian follows. The one whose egg turns out to be stiffer and doesn’t break is considered a winner.

So, when Easter comes, say to your friends:
“Christ has risen!” – “Kriste aghdga!”
The reply should be:
“Indeed he has risen!” – “Cheshmaritad aghdga!”

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