By Danielle Corrie
In this latest post in our ‘The Age of COVID-19’ series, author Danielle Corrie reflects on how pandemic-related restrictions changed her family’s Easter traditions. In doing so, she highlights how the traditions are kept alive through intergenerational connections and efforts.
Easter comes and goes each autumn in Australia, yet this Easter (2020) was different. Everyone was quiet, at home, without the usual outdoor treasure hunts for the children. For me, being of Orthodox and Catholic religious denominations, COVID-19 has meant two sets of adaptations, one for Orthodox Easter and the other for Catholic Easter. While these dates vary, the two Easters were one week apart in 2020.
Due to the Stay at Home directions imposed in the weeks leading up to Easter, no one could attend church on two major days of the religious calendar, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, or on the preceding days of Holy Week (commencing on Palm Sunday). While Church services were (and still are) available online, they were not accessible for those in the community who had no computer or internet within their home. While COVID-19 necessitated self-isolation and social distancing, each family adapted their traditions, customs and culture so that Easter messages were remembered, even during these hard times.
My Orthodox pre-COVID ‘normal’ Easter
On Orthodox Easter Sunday, our family cooked hard-boiled eggs for the purpose of “egg fights”. These “egg fights” symbolise Jesus Christ’s resurrection, with the eggs representing Jesus’s tomb, and the cracking of the eggs representing Jesus’s emerging from the tomb. Traditionally, eggs were dyed red to represent the blood of Jesus; however, more recently, the eggs have been dyed in bright colours. Our family dyed the eggs by putting onion skins into the saucepan, and the eggs would turn a natural brown, purple or pink colour (depending on the colour of the onion skins); otherwise, coloured food dye was used. Once cool, each family member would select an egg from the basket before pairing up. One person gently tapped the pointy end of their opponent’s egg. Then both turned their eggs over so the opponent could have their turn. A cracked shell at both ends meant elimination; new pairs were then formed. The winner was whoever had an uncracked egg. Consuming the eggs was less important than participating in a fun activity together as a family.
Hands holding eggs dyed brown with onion skins (Photo: D. Corrie)
These traditions evolved over time, most notably in one particular way. One Sydney Royal Easter Show, my sister and I wandered around the agricultural displays—the animal farm, the craft exhibits, the fruit and vegetables—and stumbled across a second-hand bookshop. Walking inside, right in front of us, was a Lebanese book. Page after page, we flicked through and found each recipe was written in a similar way to how our father and Sitty (’grandmother’ in Arabic) cooked at home. Instantly, we bought the book and, with our mum, made a plan for a big cook up for Orthodox Easter (in about 10 days’ time) to show dad our Lebanese food culinary skills. In the days that followed, while dad was at work, my mum, sister and I started preparing the menu, purchasing the ingredients and preparing the food. Even our uncle (dad’s brother) was in on our secret. We made 5-6 dishes each and, on Easter Sunday, put all the food on the table ready to serve. I recall dad welling up with tears in his eyes, tears of happiness and delight. He was so touched by what we did for him, as the only people who regularly cooked Lebanese food in our family were my dad and Sitty. I also knew that if no one in my generation attempted to cook traditional Lebanese food that part of our culture may no longer continue.
This Lebanese cook-up started a new Easter tradition consisting of a family gathering of homemade Lebanese food with dad cooking as well. Every year, my siblings and I would keep Orthodox Easter Sunday free and come together for lunch. We started with “egg fights” and then our homemade Lebanese banquet, followed by Lebanese sweets and homemade biscuits. Celebrating orthodox Easter was a way for everyone to come together and reunite: my sister, my brothers and their families, my uncle, my dad, myself and other key people.
Easter in a time of COVID-19
This year, COVID-19 and my dad’s ill health meant we were unable to celebrate Easter in this way. My mother died in 2015 and my dad, now 89, has major health issues that require monitoring by a team of medical specialists. No longer can we continue our Easter tradition of a family gathering around the table eating a banquet of Lebanese food. State-based COVID-19 restrictions in place also meant it was too risky to visit anyone, from both health and policing perspectives: leaving home this Easter could result in a fine of $1,000. Instead of our banquet, my uncle and dad, who live together, still kept one tradition going, even if it was between the two of them: an “egg fight”. Instead of just boiling two eggs and having “egg fights”, they included a third egg, which represented me. When they told me afterwards that my egg had won, I felt emotional. I wished I was there but at least I could be with them again once it was safe.
Throughout my social networks, I heard of other similar adaptations to Easter traditions, where friends created their own versions of “egg fights.” While Easter couldn’t be celebrated in person, the spirit of “egg fights” during Easter kept traditions and that feeling of connectedness going. While Easter in 2020 was totally different to previous years of family gatherings, traditions and Lebanese food, it created new memories. Hopefully, once the COVID-19 restrictions lift it will mean that not only can we restart our Easter traditions, but also bring new ones to enjoy with family and friends.
Bio: Danielle Corrie is a published author from Sydney, Australia. Her book Teida’s Story – Life Through the eyes of a dog has sold internationally and a second book is in progress. Danielle enjoys continuing her family traditions, customs, and being amongst people from diverse cultures and backgrounds.
This is the nineteenth post in The Age of COVID-19 series, co-edited by Celeste Pang, Cristina Douglas, Janelle Taylor and Narelle Warren. Please send your contribution to Narelle.Warren@monash.edu