The Saturday of Lazarus is one of the most significant feast days in the Orthodox Church. It is a day of both death and life, marking the final great miracle of Christ before His resurrection. This miracle prefigures His death and the authority He has over death when he cried out "Lazarus, come forth" after his friend had been four days dead.
Over the centuries many traditions and folk customs are associated with this feast among the people of Greece. Some have been lost to time, though many still exist in certain areas of Greece that are more tied to the past.
During the Turkish occupation these traditions played a special role with a social purpose. This was especially true for young girls, who in those days of fear towards Turkish oppessors would often stay home. On days like this they would take special liberties to prepare for their future marriages.
In the olden days on this day, no farmer would go out in his field to work because they believed that whatever they will gather will wither. They were only allowed to collect dry sticks for the ovens during Holy Week for baking bagels.
One common tradition throughout Greece for the Saturday of Lazarus is the baking of Lazarakia. Lazarakia is a spice bread used to remember the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It has many sweet spices in it and is Lenten, meaning it has no dairy or eggs in it. Lazarakia comes in the shape of a man (which is supposed to be Lazarus). There is a mouth and cloves for eyes. Unlike Tsoureki, Lazarakia is not brushed with egg or butter to give it a gloss finish (to not break the fast). One recipe can be found here. "If you don't make a Lazaro, you won't have your full of bread" (“Λάζαρο δεν πλάσεις, ψωμί δεν θα χορτάσεις”), is a saying among some Greeks. Lazarakia should look like the Lazarus in the icon of his resurrection, bound like a dead man with a shroud.
On the island of Kos girls who are engaged make a Lazaro the size of a small child, filled with countless goodies and embroidered almost like the coils of the wedding, to send to the groom. The "Lazaroudia" in many households are filled with ground walnuts, almonds, figs, raisins, honey, extra spices and children eat it hot.
In Central Greece, Thessaly, Macedonia and Thrace is the custom of "Lazarines" or "Lazaritses", where female participants go from house to house with baskets of flowers and their lazarakia and sing carols especially for the day, finding in this the chance to become known as candidate brides.
In Trikala there is an annual competition of Lazarines, either for individuals or groups. These girls dress up, have decorated baskets with flowers, and sings songs to honor Lazarus Saturday. All children are offered the traditional treats (nuts, eggs, dried figs, sweets), lazarakia and souvenirs for their participation. The three most beautiful baskets, three most rare traditional songs and the best three total appearances (basket and singing) are awarded.
In Kozani all the Lazarines gather in the house in noon where the party that night will take place. Leaving from there they first visit the priest, then the president, then the Church of the Panagia. In Lefkopigi they visit all the house that welcome them and the housewives give them white eggs for their baskets. When they finish this around 4:30 pm they gather in the square for dances and traditional songs. They each then go to their homes to bring Lazarus cakes and gather in the original home where they dance, play and sing till the morning.
The Lazarina Carols
Though not as widespread as this tradition used to be, the Lazarina carols are still sung in certain parts of Greece as a cherished tradition. On the day before the Saturday of Lazarus children would go out into the fields to gather flowers to decorate their baskets to go out singing carols. They would also in some cases prepare special outifts. In return for singing carols, the children would either receive as gifts eggs, money or other foods.
The Saturday of Lazarus in Rhodes and Ialyssos, similar to the "Lazarines, children go from door to door singing the "Lazaro", collecting money and eggs for the priests. The same happens in Crete and Epirus, where visits are accompanied by the sound of large bells.
The children of Cyprus dress in yellow flowers on this day, to the point where their faces are covered. When the other children would sing carols for listeners, the other child dressed in flowers would lie down on the ground as if dead. When the children yelled "Lazarus, come forth", then the child dressed in flowers gets up.
A similar custom can be found in Kos. The child representing Lazarus is wrapped in a white sheet and decorated with yellow flowers. Payment to the children from listeners will be red eggs, which the children give their teachers. The older children would take an icon of the raising of Lazarus and place it on a special structure decorated with rosemary, and they would go to the stockyards. There the shepherds would save for them eggs, cheeses, and cream cheese which would be used for cakes.
In Skyros Lazarus is depicted on a large spoon with holes, on which children formed the face. On the spoon a wooden cross was tied to form hands, then they would dress it in baby clothes.
In Lefkada, when all the children go out singing the Lazarina, one child holds a wooden swallow while all the others would hold decorated baskets in which they would gather eggs to give to the housewives.
In old Kerkyra one man would wear a red shirt and around his waist he tied colorful ribbons. In his hands was a cane on top of which was a face carved of wood, representing Lazarus. Various decoration were on top of the cane (fake pearls, scarves, ribbons, dolls, etc.). With him were two musicians who played as he sung the carols of the day. They went to houses and shops to make money. Also, it was necessary for the people to buy the decorations on his cane, which they considered a bringer of good luck and they would hang it above their beds. Over the years this tradition gradually weakened and was almost forgotten, but today this tradition is revived and continued by both musicians and children.
In Neo Monasteri a group of young girls and older women every year revive the custom of Roumbana on the Saturday of Lazarus. On days of fasting starting on Clean Monday, the girls went to sleep with their main concern to chat about the girl they would choose to be their maid of honor (nouna), which began with the other girls rehearsing songs and dances to be ready for the Saturday of Lazarus. When the day comes they visit all the houses, except those in which there is mourning. At the end of the day together they go to the village square where they do the "xezonoma" (unbelting) of the nouna. She removes the belt for the money to drop, or haznes as they would say, and then to count them out loud along with the eggs that were gathered.
Πες μας Λάζαρε τι είδες
εις τον Άδη που επήγες.
Είδα φόβους, είδα τρόμους,
είδα βάσανα και πόνους,
δώστε μου λίγο νεράκι
να ξεπλύνω το φαρμάκι,
της καρδούλας μου το λέω
και μοιρολογώ και κλαίω.
Του χρόνου πάλι να ʽρθουμε,
με υγεία να σας βρούμε,
και ο νοικοκύρης του σπιτιού
χρόνια πολλά να ζήσει,
να ζήσει χρόνια εκατό
και να τα ξεπεράσει.
Με τον ορισμό λόγο να πούμε και το Λάζαρο να διηγηθούμε
Καλησπέρα σας καλή βραδία, ήρθε ο Λάζαρος με τα Βαϊα
Αν κοιμόσαστε να ασκωθείτε και αν κάθεστε ν' αφρικαστείτε.
Αγρικήσατε μεγάλο θαύμα, όπου έγινε δαιμόνων τραύμα.
Πήγεν ο Χριστός στη Βηθανία διότι εκεί ήταν πολύ απιστία.
Όσοι έμαθαν τον ερχομό του, όλοι τρέξανε στον ορισμό του.
Όλοι τρέξανε μικροί, μεγάλοι, όλοι Χριστιανοί Εβραίοι κι άλλοι
Καβαλίκεψε εις πώλου όνο, έτσι έμελλε τούτο το χρόνο
Και τα νήπια παιδιά Εβραίων, δια την πομπή των Ιουδαίων.
Άλλοι έκοβαν κλάδους και Βάϊα, συντηνέχοντες τα λόγια τα Άγια.
Άλλοι έλεγαν ευλογημένος ο ερχόμενος και κηρυγμένος.
Τότε ο Χριστός εμπρός κινάει και ο λαός τον ακλουθάει.
Τότε τρέξανε Μάρθα, Μαρία, γιατί ήτανε μεγάλη χρεία.
Πού είναι ο Λάζαρος, πού είν' ο αδερφός μου, πού είν' ο φίλος μου και ξάδερφός μου;
Λέγουν Λάζαρος είν' πεθαμένος, τετραήμερος στη γη θαμμένος.
Λέγει πάμετε να τον ιδούμε και στον τάφο του να λυπηθούμε.
Πάτησε ο Χριστός στην πλάκα επάνω, «Δεύρο Λάζαρε, σήκω επάνω».
Κι ώ του θαύματος η γη εταράχθη και ο Λάζαρος ορθός εστάθη.
Πού ήσουν Λάζαρε, πού'σαι αδερφέ μου, πού ήσουν φίλε μου και γνώριμέ μου;
Δώστε μου να πιω λίγο νεράκι, τι είν' το στόμα μου πικρό φαρμάκι.
Είν' τ' αχείλι μου είν' μαραμένο και από τη γη φαρμακωμένο.
Δώστε μου να πιω να σας μιλήσω και το θάνατο να λησμονήσω.
Ήμουνα βαθιά στη γη θαμμένος και με τους νεκρούς ανταμωμένος.
Τι είν' ο θάνατος που περιμένει κάθε άνθρωπο στην Οικουμένη.
Τώρα ευχόμεθα καλήν υγεία, Καλή Ανάσταση και ευτυχία.