Easter in Greece is the biggest holiday of the year and is even more important than Christmas, with week long celebrations and traditions.
The Greek Orthodox Church plays a large role in the Greek Easter ‘Paska’ or ‘ Pascha’ celebrations.
Greek Orthodox Easter usually falls one week after the Western
(Protestant, Catholic) Easter, while approximately once every four years it falls on the same date.
In 2011 Greek Easter falls on Sunday April 24th, the same as western Easter.
Greek Easter Traditions
There are many traditions in Greece revolving around Easter and the week leading up to Easter plays a major role in these. This week is known as Holy Week or ‘Megali Evdomada’ (literally meaning the Big Week).
Throughout Holy Week churches hold services at least once a day. Traditionally people fast and no meat, oil or dairy products are eaten until midnight on Easter Saturday, after the symbolic Ressurection.
Holy Monday – Megali Deftera
The first day of Holy Week. People go to church and kiss the icon of Christ.
Holy Tuesday – Megali Triti
A day of mourning. Women bake Easter biscuits “koulouraki’ with oil and eggs, to be eaten after the fast is over on Saturday.
Holy Wednesday – Megali Tetarti
A special church service for worshippers to be blessed with oil. All household chores must be finished today.
Holy Thursday – Megali Pempti
Communion services in church start early morning today and churchgoers bow before Christ on the Cross. The women dye eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ, and bake Easter bread – Tsoureki. These will be placed on the Easter table to be eaten after Saturday.
Holy Friday – Megali Paraskevi
The most sacred day of Holy Week and is a day of mourning. The church bells ring the death knell all morning. Girls decorate the Epitafio – the funeral bier and a service is held for Christ’s funeral. Today is a day of rest for women and men are forbidden to play cards. At dusk the Epitafio is paraded through the village or town streets with a quiet processon in tow. This is a sombre parade.
Holy Saturday – Megali Savvato
The church once again holds a service in the morning, and the church is filled with flowers. In the villages men slaughter lambs for Easter Sunday. The women bake cheese pies – kalitsounia. In Crete children make an efigy of Judas to burn on bonfires later at the midnight celebration.
The Midnight Easter Service & The Resurrection – Saturday Night
The Anastasi, the Resurrection, takes place at midnight and is the culmination
of Holy Week. The whole of Greece, it seems, attends church for the midnight
service and the lighting of the Holy Flame. The Priest passes the Holy Flame throughout the congregation and all light a candle with cries of Christos Anesti!- Christ is Risen. Fireworks are then let off in celebration. The people take their lit candles home and make the sign of a cross with the black from the candle flame in the doorway of their homes before entering.
The breaking of the Fast takes place now, at midnight after the church service people go home to eat Mageiritsa – a meat soup made with offal, plus the red eggs and kalitsounia.
Easter Sunday – Kyriaki tou Paska
Families and friends meet up for the Easter Day roasting of lamb outside on a spit and a big celebration party with food, wine, music and dancing all day long.
Kalo Pascha! Happy Easter.