Easter is considered as the most important religious and cultural event in Greece and it is cherished in many different ways. Easter in Greek is called “Paska” or “Pasha” (Πάσχα) and it is the most important holiday of the Greek Orthodox Church.
Greek Orthodox Easter usually occurs one to five weeks after its western equivalents (Catholic Easter, etc), whereas once every four years it occurs concurrently with them.
During Holy Week many Greek radio and television programs are dedicated to religious broadcasts. Fasting commences on Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera), the day after the Carnival. It is a bank holiday and it marks the beginning of Lent and 49 days of fasting; however most modern Greeks only only fast during the Holy Week (Megali Evdomada) on the lead-up to Easter. Church functions are carried out throughout the Holy Week.
It is typical for families to dye eggs in red color (a metaphor for the blood of Christ) and bake Easter delicacies, such as “chourekia” (sweet pastries) and “kalitsunia” (cheese pies), to be consumed after Easter Sunday and when fasting is over.
The first great event is held on Good Friday (26 April 2019). It is a day of mourning and the bells of churches ring wistfully in the morning. In the evening, the Epitafios, Christ’s funeral bier, is decorated with flowers. The church service begins at 7pm and around 8:30 pm the bier is carried through the city/village streets around the church, followed by the congregation of the people, dressed in all black.
Easter Saturday (Megalo Savato) the children in Cretan villages prepare a bonfire and place a figure of Judas in the fire, to punish for his betrayal of Christ.
Anastasi (Resurrection) takes place at midnight and it is the highlight of Greek Easter. After 11pm the Churches are packed with devotees who want to pick up the Holy Flame at midnight (it comes every year from Jerusalem by plane).
When midnight comes, the lights go off and the darkness which ensues is a metaphor for Christ passing through the underworld. Then the priest appears with a glimmer of light chanting “Afto to fos…” (Here is the light of the world). Then the priest steps down to the devotees and starts passing his flame to their candles intoning “Defte, lavete fos” (Come take the light). Worshippers wish “Hristos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) to each other to receive the response “Alithos Anesti” (He has risen indeed).
Soon the entire church congregation has candles ablaze with the Holy Light and the devotees start walking home. Then the youngsters light up the bonfire and throw firecrackers to celebrate. If you are in Greece during Easter you should wish people “Kalo Pasha” (Happy Easter) or “Chronia Polla” (Live Long and Prosper).
At the midnight of Easter the fasting ends and so meat is all the range. Some people celebrate by feasting in taverns or at home with family. “Mayiritsa” (traditional delicacy of lamb tripe) is a popular choice, as well as the rotisserie lamb on coal fire the following day. Easter Sunday, apart from roast lamb, is a day to gather with family in your grandparent’s village (everyone in Greece comes from a village, apparently), and celebrate with plenty of wine and music. Why are Greeks so persistent on eating lamb on Easter Sunday? Well, by some accounts, the lamb is supposed to symbolise the sacrifice of Jesus for the salvation of the people. Or just an excuse to Greeks indulge in a barbecue!
Did you have an experience of Greek Easter or planning to visit Greece during this period? Let us know in the comment section below!