In Greece, Easter is a week-long celebration that includes a series of festivities. It’s a week defined by customary faith-based practices, leading up to the much-loved family & friends feast of Easter Sunday. Since many of 2021’s restrictions won’t be in place this year around, it’s a great chance to observe the customs (or just to observe friends observing the customs).
So if you are in Greece these days, here is a list of things you should not miss out:
Tsoureki (something like Greek Brioche) and traditional cookies (κουλουράκια) baking, egg dying on Holy Thursday (most often in bright red colors) and the Epitaphios on Friday evening ; the solemn procession (usually around 21.00) where the flower-decorated wooden bier is carried by pallbearers and clergy in every neighborhood, as they are followed by parishioners around the main squares and churches.
Godparents will be called upon to deliver gifts of all sorts to their godchildren, including specialty candles (λαμπάδες) to be used on Holy Saturday night (Resurrection of Christ) in the Easter vigil outside of churches. People may of course attend with a simple candle in hand; no need to be carrying around a super-complex λαμπάδα. About 10 minutes before the clock strikes midnight, the “holy light” will spread through the crowd as the priest delivering the ceremony will pass on the flame and it will be shared among the attendees. If you do manage to attend the Resurrection at midnight, you’ll notice people safeguarding their lit candles or lanterns as they try to bring the light home for good luck. As custom has it, you are supposed to leave the flickering candles burn throughout the night, thus, blessing your household.
Upon returning home from the church that night, most often, a hot plate of mageiritsa (μαγειρίτσα) soup will be ready for the family to feast on. Remember, some people may have fasted over the past week but some others may have done so for 40 days prior to this night, so this soup is a certain delicacy! (You may always taste this highly nutritious soup in some restaurants that night.)
They will also have their Easter-egg cracking duels, where the last egg standing means good luck for the owner. “It’s all about the way you hold the egg as you crack tip against tip of the egg…”, as the older generation will always advise…
The battle of the eggs will resume on Easter Sunday where we hold the traditional family/friends feast which usually centers around lamb and kokoretsi and meat in general. In the countryside, you will certainly come across people who have gotten up at the break of dawn to get the lamb on a spit ready to slowly (very slowly) cook over the open fire. Once wine or other traditional alcoholic beverages, depending on the area and tastes, enters the equation, Greek families and friends gathering are very likely to play loud music, most often Greek traditional tunes
It is truly one of the most iconic holiday celebrations for Greece and you will note that in the week leading up to Easter Sunday, there will always be low key television programming with one Greek channel always showing the 1977 British-Italian epic film “Jesus of Nazareth” (Franco Zeffirelli), broken down in episodes per day; whereas, on Saturday night ,after the Resurrection, and all throughout Easter Sunday, the mood will be celebratory with dancing, singing and all-around merriness. If you are planning to eat at a tavern that day (also a common option), many popular destinations might refuse to reserve a table, given that the crowd flocking to famous meat-taverns is simply tremendous.
Easter Sunday, of course, also pairs up with a Name-Day, as do most of our celebrations, so don’t forget to wish a happy name day to: Anastasia, Tasia, Tasoula, Anastasios, Anestis and Tasos. The main wish exchanged is «χρόνια πολλά» for both name days and Easter in general, and once Christ has risen, this short dialogue is most often heard:
– «Χριστός Ανέστη!» (Christ has risen!)
– «Αληθώς Ανέστη!» (Truly, he has risen!) or «Αληθώς ο Κύριος!» (Truly, the Lord)
This is a pretty succinct recap of what Easter looks like mostly in Greece, although locality is important and traditions are enriched in various regions and islands.
Καλό Πάσχα και Χρόνια Πολλά!