George Cami remembers well the feeling of Easter joy as a child growing up in Greece -- the music, the dancing, the snitching of meat from the roasting lamb.

Cami, owner of Aegean Breeze in Great Barrington, has lived in the Berkshires since he opened the restaurant with a business partner in 2001, three years after coming to America from Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea.

The way he sees it, America is still the land of opportunity.

"We come for the children. Opportunity is better here. Good schools. Life is better here," he said.

Even in the work of food, Cami sees opportunity.

"There is more healthy food in the U.S.," he said, "more vegetarian food. More local organic produce. In Greece, these things are limited."

In many ways, Cami doesn't miss his homeland. He has his family; he sees his relatives frequently, and they are able to keep fundamental traditions alive here both in business and at home.

"My father raised bees, and my grandfather raised bees, so I raise bees," Cami said, laughing. "Kids love the honey, and it's better than sugar."

He also gets the opportunity to celebrate two Easters -- Roman Catholic Easter, celebrated this year in March, and Eastern Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated by the Gregorian Calendar, this year on May 5.

Although Easter is universal in that it commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ as relayed in the Bible, in the Greek tradition it is celebrated in a slightly different way and without the secular encroachment of magical bunnies and baskets filled with sugary candies.

It begins with 40 days of lent, where the faithful eat an all-vegetarian diet, and ends it a day-long celebration of feasting, music, dancing and merriment.

Every city in Greece has different traditions, he said.

In Corfu, where George and his family hail, the celebration of Easter (Pascha) is a week-long event that begins on Palm Sunday -- the Sunday before Easter.

On Good Monday, Corfiots begin preparations. They shop, they begin baking traditional Easter breads, called tsoureki. Tsoureki is a sweet, braided yeast bread with citrusy flavors.

Religious services, hymns, candle-lighting and the ringing of bells usher in different traditional celebrations during the next few days of Holy Week. The first bell instructs the residents to begin dying the traditional red Easter eggs, a custom that symbolizes rebirth and nature.

Bells on the morning of Good Friday call the faithful to church, where they commemorate Christ's descent from the cross. Choruses and bands perform through the day and night in a kind of funereal observation.

On the Saturday preceding Easter, the faithful gather at church for a re-enactment of an earthquake that followed Christ's resurrection. As the appointed time arrives (11 a.m.) bells sound, people proclaim "Christos Anesti" (Christ has risen) to each other and respond, "Alithos Anesti" (He has truly risen) amid the clamor of bands parading through the streets and people tossing clay pots and vases from windows and balconies, so they noisily crash onto the streets below.

A slaughtered lamb is slow roasted on a spit for the next day's feast.

At midnight, a Christian Mass is celebrated, which marks the resurrection of Christ and ushers in Pascha.

First, the 40-day Lenten fast is broken with Maryiritsa, a traditional Easter soup that is made of lamb and offal (cleaned intestines and other organ meats) as well as scallions and rice.

"We don't use organ meats at the restaurant," Cami said, explaining the Easter soup he serves patrons. Traditional flavors and American sensibilities don't always mix: "People are healthier here. They don't want the fatty meats."

In America, Greek Easter is more of a family affair. Cami's relatives take turns hosting Easter celebrations, and Holy Week events are condensed into one eight-hour celebration of food and family.

"We spend seven or eight hours at the table singing, dancing," he said, "the more people the merrier."

Greek Easter at the restaurant, however, is a little more formal. It mixes a bit of Greek traditions with an American flavor. The first of these arrive in the form of hard-boiled eggs dyed a festive red. Cami hand-dyes 200 eggs, which he serves at the table in place of the usual olives and pita offerings.

The custom is to crack the eggs as one would clink a glass during a toast, and the egg that doesn't break brings the bearer good luck. Over time, Cami has noticed at his restaurant that more and more people are gravitating toward more traditional Greek foods, especially at Easter.

"For (Roman Caltholic) Easter we had lamb and ham," Cami said. "We sold only four orders of ham."

 

On the bridge

This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.

On Sunday, Aegean Breeze will offer a special, three-course prix-fixe menu for Easter: The first course is Easter Soup or Greek Salad with Easter bread; the second course is Honey Glazed Ham or Rosemary Roasted leg of lamb; and the third course is Galatobroiko, a custard-filled filo pastry.