For Greeks, the roasted lamb, slowly cooking on the spit on Easter Sunday, is not only a mouth-watering delicacy but it also part of a centuries-old tradition.
The event brings together family and friends outdoors, and gives all the opportunity to drink, sing and dance, culminating in the ultimate feast – the classic lamb on the spit, which has much symbolism in the Greek world.
However, in recent years many Greeks have criticized the tradition, claiming that it is barbaric.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of lambs are butchered throughout the country. In many cases and especially in villages the slaughter takes place in the open, often in front of children. Humane procedures are not always followed.
The origin of eating lamb on Easter comes from the Jewish Passover and is associated with the exodus from Egypt.
Before the Jews set out on the great exodus, God, through Moses, told them to gather in small groups and each family to sacrifice a lamb.
With the animal’s blood they were to paint their doorposts so they were not exterminated by an angel of God, who on that night would bring pestilence to the firstborn of each family who did not mark the entrance to their house with the lamb’s blood.
That night, each family offered as a sacrifice to God a lamb for the salvation of all people. They ate the lamb, without breaking its bones, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. With the lamb’s blood, they stained their doors.
Later, Christians adopted the sacrificial lamb as John the Baptist likened Jesus Christ to the lamb of God who will take the brunt of the sins of the world with his sacrifice.
The “barbaric custom” of roasting a lamb on the spit at Easter should stop, famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis has recently said.
Speaking out against animal abuse he wrote: “Easter is coming again. The days of the massacre of innocent animals are approaching for the sake of a barbaric [feast] that ought to have vanished long ago.”
In recent years, animal welfare groups are staging protests in Athens and other Greek cities against the tradition.