Families strive for cracking good time at a humbler Greek Easter

The Manolis family of Mt Waverley celebrated Greek Orthodox Easter on Sunday – but it felt strange.

Last year at Easter, as they do every year, they hosted a feast — lamb on the spit cooked for hours in the backyard for 40 relatives and friends.

Happy Easter: the Manolis family of Mt Waverley ceebrated a smaller scale Greek Easter this year.Credit:Darrian Traynor

There were kids running around, women serving salads and men talking earnestly about the meat.

But this year, COVID-19 restrictions have decimated the Greek Orthodox community’s many Easter rituals.

There was no catching up with old friends at church. No jostling to buy cakes at bakeries.

And no epic Sunday lunches with your third cousin or old primary school friend dropping in.

This year, the Manolis family’s Easter lunch was just Paul, his wife Maria and kids James, 10, Anastasia, 8, and Nikolai, 4.

But they were determined to have a cracking good time.

They cooked lamb chops on the barbecue and Maria made the Easter sweet bread, tsoureki.

Maria’s mother had dropped off some Easter soup, called magiritsa, which is made from lamb offal.

But for the first time in all their lives, the family couldn’t go to midnight mass in Oakleigh, and light their candles to take home.

Cracking fun: Paul and Maria Manolis crack eggs with their kids James, Anastasia and Nikolai (centre). Credit:Darrian Traynor

On Sunday, Paul and Maria ensured the kids had the traditional red-dyed hard-boiled eggs, which they cracked against their siblings’ eggs.

The kid with the egg that stays intact ‘‘wins’’.

But as many of Mr Manolis’s customers have been saying at his butcher shop, Paragon Meats in Oakleigh, ‘‘it doesn’t feel like Easter’’.

This year, Paragon sold 30 whole lambs compared to 380 last year.

In all, Paragon took 50 meat pre-orders compared to 1500 last Easter.

At nearby Nikos Cakes in Oakleigh on Friday, co-owner Denise Paras said on a normal Easter she would be too busy to take our call.

She said this year the ‘‘craziness and buzz’’ of the season was missing.

Ms Paras, whose parents founded Nikos 34 years ago, said sales of Easter-related goods at the Oakleigh store were down about 80 per cent compared to last Easter.

Normally, Nikos sells about 9000 of tsoureki bread. ‘‘This year we’ve baked about 500.’’

Usually they make hundreds of kilograms of the special tea biscuit koulouri; now they’ve made ‘‘several kilos’’.

Nikos stocked 6000 Easter candles eight weeks ago. They have sold just a few hundred.

‘‘It’s heartbreaking really,’’ Ms Paras said.

Ms Paras said it felt ‘‘crazy’’ not to be having 18 people at Sunday lunch at a relative's house in Balwyn.

Usually, lunch was ‘‘non stop eating’’, talking and cracking of the red eggs.

They would have been to church at midnight, then gone home in a big family group to break a period of fasting.

Instead, on Easter Sunday 2020, she and her husband had a barbecue at home, ‘‘with two little sad red eggs, versing each other’’.

They called their relatives on Facetime. ‘‘It feels surreal, very surreal’’, Ms Paras said.

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