Easter in Greece is a much celebrated period. Whenever we think of Easter memories, our mind goes to family gatherings, laughter, red eggs and tsoureki, midnight church services and spit-roasted lamb. It is a much loved time of the year and arguably much more celebrated that Christmas, for Greeks worldwide.
If you have any Greek friends, you will have probably realised that Greek Orthodox Easter is one of Greece’s most important festivals and is celebrated throughout the country. It has a dual meaning at heart, being both a Religious and a Spring festival, with the usual symbols of rebirth and the victory of life after death whilst it also marks the end of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days during which Christians remember the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings are the foundation of Christianity. The 40-day period is called Lent after an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’.
So let’s have a brief look at some of the most important traditions, dishes and places to visit in Greece this holy period.
Religious festivals with centuries-old traditions and customs take place throughout the year in Greece and Orthodox Easter is one of the greatest such celebrations. Greeks follow the Holy Week rites in commemoration of the Passion of Christ and celebrate His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Let’s find out about some of these age-old traditions that still take place nowadays, below.
Egg Dye: In the lead up to Easter, families gather together to dye eggs in a range of colours, but primarily red. Children are often involved in this process and it’s a fun activity, with a touch of religious symbolism. The red dye symbolises the blood of Christ, while the egg has been a symbol of rebirth from ancient times. In short, the red egg symbolises the triumph of life over death which culminates on Saturday night with Anastasi. The eggs are used for decorations and cracked against each other in a game called tsougrisma. The point is to crack the other person’s egg while keeping your own intact and involves a mixture of strategy and luck. The winner is the one with the unbroken egg, which is said to bring good luck for the rest of the year.
Lampada: Holding Easter lampades (candles), are a popular Easter tradition in Greece, that dates back to early Christian times. The “lampada” symbolizes the new light of Christ that came to illuminate the soul of the converts or newly-baptized, that Christians believe Christ brought to humanity when he conquered death and the darkness through his Resurrection.
Anastasi: Easter is a busy period (especially for churches) but the largest turnout is always for the Anastasi mass on Holy Saturday, which marks the night of Christ’s resurrection. Just before midnight, all the lights are turned off and the respective priest of each church. holds up the light of the eternal flame and lights the candles the congregation are holding. In some parts of Greece – especially in the islands – people take their candles home and draw a cross over their doors with the soot, in a prayer for good luck and blessings. Following mass, there are often fireworks and people tend to go out to taverns, bar, restaurants and clubs until late.
Dishes to Try
Food, of course, is critical to Greek Easter celebrations, like in most celebrations, religious or not. Greeks will congregate with family and friends and enjoy a range of delicious dishes, with 3 being the main winners of the occasion.
Mageiritsa: Mayiritsa is a soup made from the offal of lamb or goat. It’s usually only eaten once a year, when an animal would often be killed for lunch on Easter Sunday. This would ensure no bit of the animal went to waste and makes for a delicious meal, usually eaten just after Anastasi.
Tsoureki: Tsoureki is a type of plaited bread which is usually made in the week before Easter. The three strands symbolise the Holy Trinity and the bread itself is delicious. Spiced and slightly sweet, it’s often served with coffee and it is one you must try.
Lamb on a Spit: The highlight of Easter is the long lunch on Sunday, when a lamb is slow-cooked, often for at least six hours. It’s then served with salads, bread and a range of accompaniments, and the family lunch is a long, leisurely affair, usually starting at around 2pm. If you find yourself in Greece for Easter, try and attend such an event (they will be dotted almost in every house in the neighboorhood) as it is something you just have to experience first hand.
Places to Visit
If you want to experience a Greek Easter yourself, head to Greece in early Spring. For a rustic, traditional experience, head to the Greek Islands. Corfu and Chios are both popular choices for Easter, with a number of local festivals and hotels which will make the experience special for guests.
Corfu: Corfu never seems to stop rewarding its visitors. At the top of the list for many, are its Easter celebrations. The Philharmonic Society of Corfu accompanies the procession of the mummified body of the island’s patron saint, St Spyridon, as it is carried around the town on Good Friday. And on Holy Saturday, it rains botides – huge clay jars that are thrown onto the streets from people’s balconies. (Just make sure you keep looking up.) With so much of the island to explore, suffice to say that Easter on Corfu is something you should experience at least once in your lifetime.
Ermoupoli: The island of Syros boasts something extraordinary when it comes to Easter celebrations. On Good Friday, the elegant homes of Ermoupoli, Syros’ main town, are all illuminated, enhancing the solemnity of the evening procession and transporting those present back to the atmosphere of the 19th century. A must visit for you next time you are in Greece for Easter.
Patmos: Patmos Island is the place where the Book of the Apocalypse was written. During the Passion Week, in the Monastery of St. John, you will experience the observance of Early Christian rituals such as The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet, and the Deposition of Christ’s body from the Cross. Take part in the Mass of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday at the Monastery as well as in the afternoon service celebrated at 3 p.m. called the ‘Service of Love’.
Chios: Visit Chios Island for your Easter holiday, and enjoy the special Easter festivities. On Holy Saturday night, locals in Vrontados village get ready to light the skies at midnight, during the Easter Mass! Firecrackers as big as rockets get set off creating amazing colourful shapes of light on the black canvas of the night!
Wherever you choose to spend Easter in Greece, you’ll enjoy the food and ambiance no matter the location. It’s a time of year when the old traditions are dusted off and citizens of all ages celebrate the festivities.
From all of us here at The Greek Delicatessen, best wishes for a Happy Easter to you and your families and Kali Anastasi🕯️
The Greek Deli
Visit our dedicated e-shop for delicious Greek food items available both for cooking as well as immediate consumption. The Greek Deli stocks artisanal products, including Greek juices, tsoureki, egg dyes, olive oils, wines, cheeses, and mezedes. In addition, ready meals (such as pastitsio and gemista), sweets (such as baklava and kourabiedes), and Greek coffee (Loumidis) can be found in our online shop. We even stock beloved Greek chocolates and cookies. Furthermore, brands such as Lacta, Ion, Sokofreta, and Gemista cookies, as well as an impressive selection of Greek wines. You can purchase and customise our unique Greek gift boxes, with your favourite products or pre-made. One box includes extra virgin olive oil, two bottles of wine and two jars of olive paste. Along with roasted peppers, honey, chilies, and balsamic vinegar. Perfect for sending the best of Greek tastes to a distant beloved!).
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