Easter in GreeceReligious 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.
During the Holy Week, the churches’ chandeliers and icon screens are dressed in black and purple ribbons, enhancing in this way the atmosphere of mourning for the coming crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.
On Maundy Thursday, Greek home ovens get very busy as traditional tsoureki (a type of fragrant Easter brioche) is baked, along with lamprokouloura (Easter cookies). Eggs are immersed in red dye – the red colour symbolising the joy for Nature’s rebirth and the spiritual regeneration that comes with the Resurrection of Jesus.
On Good Friday in churches Epitaphios (a wooden canopied bier representing the tomb of Christ) is covered with flowers of various colours. At the end of the evening service a procession takes place headed by Epitaphios, the priests and acolytes. People follow along the streets of cities, towns and villages listening to psalms being chanted.
On Holy Saturday morning, preparations start for the festive dinner that is served after the Resurrection Midnight Mass. Mageiritsa soup is a traditional dish prepared in most Greek houses (made with chopped offal and herbs). Before midnight, people gather in church holding white candles, which they light with the “Holy Light” offered by the priest. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at Midnight with drum beats and fireworks lighting the skies as the church bells peal out and the hymn ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ is Risen) is chanted by everybody. Then people return home to gather round the festive table; they each hold a red egg and crack it with the person next to them exclaiming at the same time Christos Anesti. The winner is the one whose egg has remained intact!
On Easter Sunday morning, in many parts of the country lamb is skewered and cooked over charcoal. In other regions, the meat for the Easter table - lamb or kid - is roasted in the oven. The atmosphere is festive and people listen and dance to folk music! So, if you’re invited to join a Greek Easter table, don’t miss this experience for anything in the world. Easter celebrations are exciting all over Greece; some of the most famous destinations to celebrate Easter are Corfu, Patmos, Chios and Leonidio.
Enjoy watching the fascinating religious traditions and celebrations held in Corfu town. Don’t miss the Holy Week’s highlights:
- Attend a Municipal Theatre performance on Holy Wednesday evening, where the Municipal Chorus sings Christian hymns of the Passion Week.
- On Good Friday, young girls and ladies decorate Epitaphios with flowers in all parishes; the religious processions begin early in the afternoon accompanied by choruses and bands. The Corfu Cathedral Epitaphios is the last and most impressive one to complete the tour of the town streets. Listen to the music performed by the Corfu Philharmonic Bands, and enjoy the overwhelming experience!
- On Holy Saturday ‘Mikri Anastasi’ (1st Resurrection Service) is celebrated as the bells chime, and the bands parade in the town streets. It is customary for locals to drop clay pots from windows and balconies. It’s quite a sight to watch them crash noisily on the streets and pavements below! At midnight, attend the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection in the Catholic Cathedral, or the Orthodox Resurrection Service at Pano Plateia (Upper Square). Candles are lit everywhere: they are fixed on balconies and window sills or held by attendees.
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’.
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!
Easter celebrations in Leonidio, Peloponnese are a sight not to be missed. Watch the fascinating local custom of colourful Easter lanterns floating in the sky. As soon as “Christ is Risen” is chanted for the first time during the Easter Midnight Service, the lanterns start rising in the sky with the help of ignited petroleum-soaked cloth placed at their base; the spectacle is truly breathtaking!