Considered the most important holiday on the Greek calendar and one of the richest in folklore, the celebration of Orthodox Easter (Pascha) is unique throughout Greece. From Rhodes till Thrace, Greek Easter traditions become a herald of the spirit’s and nature’s rebirth, while Easter celebrations constitute a vivid aspect of the folk culture, rich in meaning and symbolism.
The Holy Week
Easter is a moveable holiday. Celebrations start on the first Sunday after the full moon of the spring equinox. All over Greece, a plethora of customs and traditions are observed during the week before Easter, Holy Week. Preparations to celebrate Resurrection start on Holy Thursday. Most housewives all over the country prepare red Easter eggs, cookies, biscuits, and tsoureki. The use of the egg is a symbol of rebirth while the red color stands for the blood of Christ. Also, according to the Bible when Jesus Resurrected a woman said “if it’s true,, then my eggs to become red’.
Friday is the most sacred day of the Passion Week, the day of the culmination of the passion of Christ with the deposition from the cross and Christ’s burial. On that day because it is a day of mourning, housewives avoid doing housework. Women bring flowers to decorate the Epitaph (Bier of Christ) in the churches, around 9 pm the Epitaph is taken out from each church symbolically around the church with hundreds of people following with candles. On Saturday morning, preparations start for the festive dinner and a special soup is cooked called “magiritsa”.
On Saturday night, people gather in church holding white candles which they light with the “Holy Light” distributed by the priest. Midnight when the latter chants “Christ is risen” (Christos Anesti), people exchange wishes and the so-called “Kiss of Love”. With the “Holy Light” of the candles, when they arrive home they make three times the sign of the cross on the door post over the front door of their houses for good luck. Then they all gather around the table, they crack red eggs and wish one another Christos Anesti. On Sunday morning, mainly in the Greek countryside, lamb is prepared on the spit and people eat and dance usually until late at night.
Easter is by far the holiest of Greek holidays, but it is also the most joyous, a celebration of spring, of rebirth in its literal as well as figurative sense. As Greeks drive to the countryside or their villages to spend their holiday’s food and drinks are crucial to all festivities.
On Sunday you can hear everywhere music and people dancing, while lambs, kokoretsi, and other kinds of meats are roasted, on that day tables are full of traditional dishes that differ from area to area.
The most well-known Greek Easter traditions are:
In Corfu, on Holy Saturday, after the First Resurrection, the inhabitants throw huge jugs full of water from their balconies! A spectacle that always causes excitement in the crowd.
The beautiful island of Patmos, the island of the Apocalypse, as it is commonly called because St.John wrote the Apocalypse there, gathers a lot of people during the days of Easter, because it follows all the traditions faithfully. One of the most beautiful customs is that of Holy Thursday, where the representation of the Last Supper and the Washbasin takes place, the roles of the 12 Apostles are played by monks or clergy and the role of Christ is the abbot of the Monastery of Theologos.On Easter Sunday, the 2nd Resurrection takes place in the monastery of Patmos, where the Resurrection Gospel is read in seven languages by the abbot and red eggs are distributed.
Of course, the most spectacular is the rocket war in Chios. It has its roots in the era of Ottoman rule and takes place between two parishes of Vrontados, the parish of Agios Markos and the parish of Panagia Erithani.
The inhabitants of Kozani, resurrect in the cemetery of Agios Georgios. With their candlelit, they wait for the memory of their dead Christ Resurrected and leave a red egg in the memory.
In Kythnos, on Easter Sunday, a swing is set up in the island square in which boys and girls dressed in traditional costumes swing. The one who will move someone is committed to marriage!
Easter in Hydra is different from anywhere else. On this island of Greece with a glorious history, the locals know how to keep the Greek Orthodox Easter traditions.
Whoever chooses to spend these holy days on the island of Hydra will live up close to the unique experience of the procession of the epitaph in the district of Kamini. The epitaph here enters the sea where the Epitaph Sequence is read, creating an all-encompassing atmosphere that is enjoyed every year by hundreds of visitors to the island. Then four epitaphs meet at the main port.
In the small town of Leonidio the women, singing in the gardens, gather roses, wildflowers, white, red, purple violets to embroider the wreaths and knit the crosses that will decorate the Epitaphs of Good Friday, to make a magical procession in the neighborhoods of Leonidio at night. The girls cut oranges, oranges, and any fruit imaginable from the trees to make lanterns that will illuminate the streets and traditional alleys of the market.
But the culmination, the ecstasy of creation, the manifestation of freedom, the meaning of the Resurrection is the construction of balloons, which young, old men and women, perform weeks before Holy Saturday, which have their honorary and unique presence. Sixteen multicolored thin types of glue are joined and at their base, around rod is woven, on the cross wire of which the “kolimara” will be inserted, the cloth soaked in oil and a little oil, the fuel to release it.
It is not one and two. More than 1,000 such balloons, from all the parishes of Leonidio, will make their journey on the sweet resurrection night, filling the sky with stars, declaring at the same time the Resurrection of the soul, the liberation, the cleansing from the sufferings, the exorcism evil to which of course the barrels, dynamites and sparklers contribute, which most carefully are thrown by the men and the older ones.
The burning of Judas, a pile of wood, invisible, and branches completes the image of the Resurrection. And all this with Christ Resurrected!
One of the oldest Easter customs in Messinia with a focus on the city of Kalamata is Saitopolemos. A custom with roots from the revolution of 1821 which is revived every Easter Sunday in Kalamata and a few other areas of Messinia, such as Eva, Aris, and Thuria. Every year after Holy Monday, various groups called “Bouloukia” begin their forty-day preparation.
On Easter day, at 20.00, in the northern parking lot of Nedontas, the herds of saitologists carry out the saitopole. The custom came from the intelligent use of the Greeks in the liberation war of 1821, as a kind of intimidation of the Turkish cavalry. Initially, they were improvised constructions, were using gunpowder placed in an empty rod, they released a strong flame from one side that terrorized the rucksacks of the Turkish cavalry. After the end of the war, these improvised constructions evolved and became the well-known custom of Saitopolemos.
In Crete, the customs of Holy Week are many and in addition to the well-known ones that apply throughout Greece in the villages of Crete -mainly- the following are observed:
Throughout the Holy Week, they do not listen to songs, they do not sing or whistle, in the cafes they do not play cards and with a spatula they hang the Fantis of the deck from the ceiling. The boys and the big men cut wood mainly during the Holy Week, katsoprinia, aspalathos and other bushes and on Holy Saturday they make the ravine 3-4 meters high and 6-8 meters wide to burn the statue of Judas.
On Holy Thursday, they make a human figure out of wood, the “Judas”, which is circulated in all the houses of the village, and he is beaten and abused for his infamous betrayal. The women give whatever old clothes they have to dress “the filthy Judas”, which they fill with useless. The lambs for Easter are slaughtered on Holy Wednesday and Holy Thursday.
On Holy Saturday, the statue of Judas is placed on the ravine with the wood, for fear of the Jews, that is, the neighboring villages that seek to weep for Judas. On the night of the Resurrection, with Christ Resurrected, the girls set fire to Judas, who burns with the necessary ballots. On the day of the Resurrection, even enemies give the kiss of Love in the churchyard.