Kalo Pascha: All About Easter in Greece
by Natalie Alexakis
In the Christian community, the day that symbolises the rebirth of Jesus after his crucifixion is celebrated as Easter. In Greece, which adheres to the Orthodox belief, Easter, or Pascha, is one of the most joyous holidays and is considered as the biggest event alongside Christmas.
Easter celebrations are very cheerful and with plenty of food. It does not have a fixed date, usually taking place between the end of March and the first 3 weeks of April. This year, it is celebrated on April 24, 2022.
The end of the 40-day fasting period (not eating meat and animal products), which started with the Kathara Deftera after the Apokries Carnival, is also the beginning of Easter. Those who do not fast for 40 days, especially in the last week of this period, definitely do not eat meat and animal products nor drink fermented alcohol. For this reason, in the last week of the fasting period, people often flock to fish markets in Greece, you can see fish and, of course, ouzo combinations everywhere in homes, and restaurants.
During the holidays in Greece, people leave their residential homes and go to their summer houses or villages. Easter is one of them.
In the rebirth of Jesus Christ, which coincides with Sunday, April 24 this year, people have been in the church before 12 at night. Since at 12 o'clock, it is believed that Jesus was born again, and everyone from the eldest to the oldest gives candles to each other. This also marks the end of the fasting period.
This year, Megali Evdomada (Holy Week) started on Monday 18th April with Pascha falling on the 24th of April. There are a variety of traditions associated with Holy Week, which marks the end of Lent. Below are the celebrations and traditions during Holy Week leading up to Easter.
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday there are no significant traditions, however, Holy Monday celebrates Joseph's life and Jesus Christ's symbolic cursing of the fig tree. Traditionally, Holy Tuesday celebrates the parable of the 10 virgins and Holy Wednesday celebrates Mary Magdalene.
On this day, eggs are dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ. The symbolic use of eggs represents the renewal of life, which is of course, fitting for this time of the year. Children are usually given the task of painting/decorating them for fun! This day is also observed by baking koulourakia (biscuits) and tsoureki (sweet bread).
The most formidable tradition occurs on the morning of Holy Friday with the decoration of the Epitaphios (wooden structure carrying an icon of Christ) carried out by women and children. In the evening, the procession of the Epitaphios takes place in the streets surrounding the church. This day is typically gloomy as it is a day of mourning of Christ. Melancholic church bells are rang throughout the day.
The spirit is massively uplifted on Holy Saturday. Christ is resurrected at midnight and the church bells ring happily. People gather at the church at nighttime with white candles, with children being gifted with their own decorated lambatha (paschal candle) by their godparents. Children usually keep their candles to reuse again at other special liturgies like baptisms and weddings. The climax happens at midnight, the moment of Christ’s resurrection, with the priest announcing ‘Xristos Anesti’ (Christ has risen).
People are singing, cheering and kissing one another, whilst fireworks start going off. The candles are then lit by the priest’s candle, known as the ‘holy flame’. Each person then carries their candle home to bless their home by drawing a cross with the flame above the entrance for protection against evil. This also marks the end of Lent and the first meal typically eaten to celebrate is magiritsa (lamb intestine soup). Additionally, back at home after church, or the next day, the game of 'tsougrisma' begins where people try to break each others’ red eggs by hitting them against each other. The one who wins is said to have good luck for the rest of the year.
The feast begins! Taking the time to spend with loved ones and eating good food is the highlight of this day. As the lamb roasts on a spit, there is music, laughter, and chatter surrounding it. It is a tradition to say 'Kalo Pascha' on this day, which means a joyful Easter!
Signature Easter Celebrations Across Greece
Chios with fireworks battle
These celebrations in Chios are actually not directly related to Orthodox celebrations. In the town of Vrontados, the rival churches of St. Mark and St. Erithiani, 400 metres away from each other throw fireworks until they hit each other's bells.
(photo by Lucky Trip)
Pot smashing in Corfu Island
Pot smashing is not practised everywhere in Greece. On Saturday of Easter week on the Greek island of Corfu, people return to their homes after they go to church and perform their rituals of breaking pots and even plates and glasses from their windows. It is claimed that this tradition comes from the biblical sentence "Lord, raise me up, let me break them like a pitcher's pitcher".
People in Greece are very attached to their customs and traditions Whatever the reason, they do not hesitate to practise these customs. Easter is one of them. Best if you go and witness it with your own eyes.