5 Ways Palestinian Eastern Orthodox Easter is Unique
Since Easter is here, I wanted to let the Western world learn about some Easter traditions that are particular to the Eastern world and the Eastern Church. Although there are many Western traditions that the Eastern world has adopted, such as egg hunting, and decorating our homes with bunnies and baskets, there are still some Easter traditions that are unique to this side of the world.
1. The weekly path of the cross service
During lent, every Friday between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Eastern churches have a special service that goes over every station of the path of the cross. Every week there is liturgy that talks about one specific stage that Jesus passed while He was carrying the cross. For example, one of the weeks the liturgy talks about Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross before He was crucified. The purpose of this weekly service is to remind us of the suffering that Jesus underwent before His crucifixion, and to help us prepare our hearts for Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday.
2. Kaa’k o ma’amool
Before Easter, all the women in the family gather together and make Easter cookies called kaa’k o ma’amool. The kaa’k is a cookie that is made out of semolina and butter and stuffed with a date paste, and formed in the shape of a donut. The ma’mool is also made out of semolina and butter, but it is stuffed with nuts (either pistachios or walnuts) and is formed in the shape of a round, thick cookie. Both of these cookies are decorated with a fork or a special kitchen tool with little pinches that make it look like a crown. This represents the crown of thorns that Jesus wore. The ma’mool is shaped in a way that resembles a stone, which represents the stone that was rolled away when Jesus rose from the dead. (For a humorous account about this cookie from a guest blogger, click here.)
3. Visits and colored eggs
During Easter, it’s a tradition to visit all your relatives and friends and wish them a Happy Easter. Palestinian Christians living in the West Bank take advantage of this time since most of them have permits to visit their families and friends who live in Jerusalem and other areas inside Israel. These visits usually don’t last more than 5-10 minutes as each family needs to make visits to at least 10-20 homes. At each visit, you’re presented with eggs, kaa’k o ma’mool, and chocolate, leaving you with a bag full of eggs and cookies. Children love going on these visits with their parents as they try to collect as many eggs as they can. Once the children get home, they play a special game called “egg war” where they try to crack other’s eggs while keeping theirs uncracked; whoever has an uncracked egg the longest becomes the king of eggs.
4. Holy Saturday celebration
The day before Easter Sunday, there’s a very special celebration in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which symbolizes the light that shone from Jesus’ tomb. This light that shines every year is transferred by candles to the rest of the world within minutes. As soon as it’s out, a huge celebration with marching bands from all churches start performing celebration songs that they have been practicing for all year. This is also a special time, because those living in the West Bank who usually cannot enter Jerusalem have permits and can participate in the Holy Saturday celebration in the Holy Sepulchre.
5. The extra commutes and becoming a chauffeur
Most West Bankers take buses to visit the Easter celebrations in Jerusalem since they cannot drive in Jerusalem, although it’s usually only a 30 minute to one hour drive from their homes. Some who have relatives with Jerusalem residency ask their relatives/friends to drive them to Jerusalem. As I hold a Jerusalem ID and am allowed to drive in and out of the city, I regularly take on the job of a chauffeur for the whole week of Easter.
Personally, this is my favorite time of the year. Firstly, Easter comes during Spring, and this is my favorite season. More importantly, during Easter, I am reminded that I am from a very special land where I get to live in the place where Jesus walked, where Jesus was crucified and where He rose from the dead, defeating the power of death. It also makes me feel proud that I belong to such a passionate and faithful group of people, Palestinian Christians, who, regardless of the oppression and injustice that they experience daily as a result of the occupation, choose to stay in their homeland, and choose to celebrate their faith in public, defying all obstacles.