Sometimes, Easter would fall into the Norooz holiday period. When this was the case, we would celebrate the Easter dinner in the company of other Armenian families in Daryakenar (instead of being just among our family). This meant lots of preparation and cooking. This year, Easter was just few days after Norooz, we were invited to one of my parents friend’s house. Not too many people, but the meal was complete and more than we could eat.
Armenians in Iran celebrate Easter in slightly different manner, which is a combination of customs from Armenia, Eastern Europe and a bit Iranian cuisine. Like everyone else, we dye eggs, in bright colors, usually in large quantities. On Easter day, kids take these eggs to church or parties to play with other kids. You hold an egg and the other hit it on the head, if yours breaks, you loose and you should give the egg to the winner. When I was a teenager, the churches were one of our meet up places. We would go to church on holidays, but we wouldn’t even enter the church, we would stay in the yard and chitchat with our friends, spy on guys, collect gossip, etc. Once, on an Easter day I saw one of my friends, a guy, and asked him without even thinking: “ Where are your eggs, let’s play with them?” Suddenly I realized what I had just said, but it was too late. My friends cracked up and teased me all day long.
Besides the eggs, we get an Easter bread called Paska, a bit similar to Italian Panettone. Few years ego, the magic of google revealed to me that it is an Eastern European traditional Easter pastry. I don’t know when it has entered into Iranian-Armenian Easter habit. Probably the Armenians from Russia have brought it with them. It consists of a cylindrical-shape sweet bread, with lemon and orange zests, and some nuts. It is quite light and tasty. It takes a long time to bake and it needs special molds, for this reason we always buy them from Armenian pastry shops. In some stores you even have to reserve your Paska in advance so much the demand is high. Then after each family has bought its Paska, they have to discuss for days whose Paska was better: which one had more taste, which one was less dense, etc. Years ago, my aunt had found a recipe and she used to make her own, struggling with the dough for hours. When I moved to US, I tried to bake it a few times, but somehow the flour and the sugar tasted different, I couldn’t find the proper yeast, and the proportions were not coming out correctly, so I gave up after few trials even though my friends liked the outcome. I like to think that’s because they didn’t know what the real thing should have tasted!
Then, finally there is the Easter meal, which in the contrary to most countries, we eat on the night before Easter, Saturday night. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Jesus resurrected on Saturday night. Since, that night is still in the period of the Lent, our meal does not consist of red meat, but only fish. This is the part influenced by Iranians: we eat cooked smoked fish, Dast-pitch, white rice with saffron and an omelet like thing called Kuku made of a variety of herbs. We have to drink wine (which is of course house made, in Iran) and in some families, they get the holy bread to dip in the wine. This holy bread is prepared by the churches and distributed to all families weeks in advance. I am sure not many really care about the religious part, but since it is the tradition, we hold on to it.
On Easter day, people go to church and then start visiting their families (none of which I respected once, I was no longer looking for a boyfreind!). Usually our schools (Armenian schools) are closed on Easter Monday to honor the dead.
When I was in US, I was usually invited to my Landlords mother’s house, an Armenian Lady, on Easter day. Their whole family was gathered together. I always skipped the morning church ceremony, which I think they didn’t appreciate, but the lunch, which I never understood why it was called “dinner” in US, was always quite delicious: a nice lamb roast, various veggies, potatoes, etc. She loved serving us Irish coffee with some home made pastries. They were quite nice people and as a starved graduate student, I always looked forward for such invitations.
P.S. Accidentally, I was reading this story by David Sedaris about Easter, it is quite funny!