For Greek people, the annual roasted lamb, slowly cooking on the spit on Easter Sunday, is not only a mouth-watering delicacy but is also part of a centuries-old tradition.
The event brings together family and friends outdoors, and gives everyone the opportunity to drink, sing and dance, culminating in the ultimate feast – the classic lamb on the spit, which has a great deal of symbolism in the Greek world.
However, in recent years many Greek people have begun to criticize 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 of the Jewish people from Egypt.
Before they set out on their great exodus, God, through Moses, told the Jews to gather in small groups and for each family to sacrifice a lamb.
They were to mark their doorposts with the animal’s blood so that they would not be exterminated by an angel of God, who on that night would bring pestilence to the firstborn of each family which did not mark their house with the lamb’s blood.
That night, each Jewish family offered a lamb for the salvation of all people as a sacrifice to God. They ate the lamb, without breaking its bones, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They then marked their doors with the lamb’s blood.
Later, Christians adopted the sacrificial lamb, as John the Baptist likened Jesus Christ to the Lamb of God who will take away 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 said recently.
Speaking out against animal abuse, the great Greek composer 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 have staged protests in Athens and other Greek cities against the annual Easter tradition.