Holidays were always the hardest times for me, a young mother experiencing her first few years on the East Coast. We were 2,500 driving miles from our families out West at a time when air travel was very expensive and not readily attempted.
Even during my high school years in Las Cruces, N.M., I didn't feel so displaced. I had my family and a small but tight-knit LDS community ever present.
For that community, we had to travel to Scarsdale, N.Y., until some chapels were built near us in Connecticut.
As to our day-to-day living, we relied heavily on the friendship of our neighbors.
Fortunately, we chose a new home area that was near the grade school and affordable to young families like ourselves. That guaranteed home buyers choosing to live by us who were looking for friends, generally coming from somewhere else like we had.
It was a good mixture of Italians, Irish, English, Australian, quite a few Midwesterners, a Jewish family and our across-the-street Greek neighbors, Tom and Nike Passios.
Their children were similar in age to our then-four children, so they were a great family for us, especially at Easter.
Eastern Orthodox churches calculate Easter by using the Julian calendar, while Christian churches follow the Gregorian calendar. Simply put, differing dates meant our children often were able to celebrate two Easters. Greek Easter is generally lamb and dolmathes, whereas ours was ham and sweet potatoes, and of course, the kids got double candy.
The Greek tradition our children looked forward to was the Easter egg fight.
No, they didn't throw them at one another.
On Easter Sunday, when family and friends gather together, each person picks a red Easter egg. The person, as challenger, turns to someone nearby and says, "Christ is risen." The challenged one answers, "Truly he has risen." Then, they pit their eggs (point to point) against each other. The one with the uncracked egg wins, and they go on to challenge someone else. This continues until one person remains with a perfect (uncracked) egg. As the winner, they will have good luck for the year.
Two years ago, after catching up with Nike Passios by telephone and talking about those fun Easters, a package arrived. Inside were several dozen of her delicious Koulourakia that were always a family favorite.
Our now-adult children savored them, and so did our grandchildren, who heard some great stories about sharing the holiday.
Nike has given me permission to share her recipe. The cookies, which are fun to make with your children, involve rolling strips of cookie dough, then twisting into bunny ears.
Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies)
1 pound butter
1½ cups sugar
4 large eggs
6 teaspoons baking powder
8-10 cups sifted flour
1½ teaspoon vanilla
Juice of an orange (¼ cup)
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition.
Add vanilla and orange juice, mixing well.
Add baking powder to 8 cups flour.
Now, add flour to dough with heavy wooden spoon.
Next, roll dough in your hand — if sticky, add extra flour until dough is smooth and workable.
Roll in strips 7 to 8 inches long.
Bend in half, and braid two or three times so it looks like a bunny with ears.
Place on cookie sheet, and spread beaten egg on top.
Bake at 350 degrees until tops get golden colored (about 15-20 minutes)
— Nike Passios
We like them plain, but if you require a little sweeter cookie, glaze them and add sprinkles. Here's hoping you will be the one with the unbroken red egg this year.