Easter (Pascha) in Greece
A fantastic time to be in Greece, Easter is best enjoyed in the countryside, in the villages and small towns where old traditions keep strong.
Communities come together to enjoy the springtime weather and celebrate the most important Great Feast of the Orthodox tradition. Ships in ports all over Greece sound their horns. Local customs, marching bands, the Epitaphs that the parish women spend all night decorating on Holy Thursday, the solemn Good Friday processions, the Ascension ceremony on Easter Eve with its candles and fireworks, the services in churches, monasteries and chapels will entrance and uplift you.
A fantastic time to be in Greece, Easter is best enjoyed in the countryside, in the villages and small towns where old traditions keep strong and communities come together to enjoy the springtime weather and celebrate the most important Great Feast of the Orthodox tradition. The religious ceremonies are moving and a sight to behold. The ensuing feasting and celebrations are bound to stay with you forever.
Holy (or Great) Thursday: Baking Tsoureki & Dying Red Eggs
Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the traditional Easter bread, "tsoureki", is baked, and eggs are dyed red. Red eggs are a traditional part of the Greek Easter celebration. In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are a symbol of new life, victory over death and the blood of Jesus Christ.
Holy Thursday evening, church services include a symbolic representation of the crucifixion, and the period of mourning begins. In many villages - and in cities as well - women will sit in the church throughout the night, in traditional mourning.
Holy (or Great) Friday: Church Bells, Flags, Tomb of Jesus
On Good Friday, there is a sombre atmosphere and the church bells ring and flags fly half mast, and in some villages a shrine representing the tomb of Jesus is carried in the streets. The holiest day of Holy Week is Holy Friday. It is a day of mourning. It is also the only day during the year when the Divine Liturgy is not read. Flags are hung at half-mast and church bells ring all day in a slow mournful tone.
Traditionally, women and children take flowers to the church to decorate the "Epitaphios" (the symbolic bier of Christ).On the evening of Good Friday, people go to church for the procession of the Epitaphios - an embroidered religious icon that is solemnly paraded through the streets on a funeral bier that parishioners lavishly decorate with flowers earlier in the day. The Service of Lamentation mourns the death of Christ, and the bier is carried on the shoulders of the faithful in a procession through the community.
On Holy Saturday, at Greek homes, the traditional "magiritsa" soup is prepared-which uses the organs and intestines of the lamb that will be roasted on Easter Sunday--is prepared, which will be eaten after the midnight service, to break the fast.
Greeks gather at the church again for the midnight service on Holy Saturday, bringing with them special tall candles called "lambades". At the stroke of midnight, all lights are turned off, plunging the congregation into darkness until the priest produces a flame and begins chanting “Defte lavete Fos”- literally, “Come and receive the Light”- pronouncing the Resurrection of Christ. When the clock passes midnight, the Priest calls out "Christos Anesti" (Christ is risen), and passes the flame, the light of the Resurrection, to those nearest him. The flame is then passed from person to person, and it isn't long before the church and courtyard are glowing with flickering candlelight. The night air is filled with the singing of the Byzantine Chant "Christos Anesti," and wishes are exchanged. As is the custom, as soon as "Christos Anesti" is called out, church bells ring joyously non-stop, ships in ports all over Greece sound their horns.
The lambades are then carefully carried home; The sight of hundreds of candle flames moving from churches to homes on that night is beautiful, indeed. Tradition has it that if they arrive with the flame still burning and mark a cross on the doorway with its smoke, the household will be blessed with good luck. From the lighting of the flame on and throughout Easter Sunday, people use the greeting “Christós anésti” (Christ is risen), to which you can reply with “Alithós anésti” (truly, he is risen).
Once home, everyone gathers around the table for a traditional meal to break the fast, which includes the magiritsa soup, "tsoureki", a sweet, egg-enriched bread that is flavored with mahleb and mastic, and the red eggs. But before the eggs are eaten, there's a traditional challenge:
"Tsougrisma" the Red Egg Easter Game: Whose egg is going to crack first?The word tsougrisma means "clinking together" or "clashing." The game requires two players and two red eggs; the goal is to crack the opponent's egg without cracking your own. The player who successfully cracks both ends of their opponent's egg is declared the winner and, it is said, will have good luck during the year.
Easter Sunday: A day of feasting, when families come together to celebrate and enjoy traditional Easter dishes that include roast lamb, typically cooked on a spit over an open fire; tsoureki, a sweet, egg-enriched bread that is flavored with mahleb and mastic; and of course, dyed red eggs.Roasting the Lamb
Families gather at dawn to roast the lamb. The spits are set to work and grills are fired up. Preparations for the meal turn into festive celebrations even before the eating begins, which can be a three to four-hour affair, lasting long into the night.