Easter Traditions in Greece: From Holy Week to Pot Smashing in Corfu Island
Easter, a significant holiday in the Christian community, symbolises the rebirth of Jesus after his crucifixion. In Greece, where Orthodox Christianity is prevalent, Pascha or Easter is celebrated with great fervor and is considered the most significant event after Christmas. It is a joyous occasion marked by various traditional customs and festivities.
Easter is a time for joyous celebration and abundant feasting. The holiday does not have a fixed date, typically falling between late March and the first three weeks of April. Whether observing through religious or secular traditions, the holiday is an opportunity to come together with loved ones and enjoy the festivities.
The end of the 40-day fasting period, which commences with Kathara Deftera following the Apokries Carnival, marks the start of Easter in Greece. During this time, individuals who have fasted for 40 days abstain from consuming meat and animal products, and avoid fermented alcohol, particularly in the final week of the fast. As a result, fish markets in Greece are bustling with activity during Easter, and homes and restaurants are filled with fish dishes and ouzo pairings. This tradition is deeply rooted in Greek culture and adds to the excitement and anticipation of Easter celebrations.
It is also common for people to leave their homes and head to their summer houses or villages during the holiday season, including Easter. On Easter Sunday, which coincides with the rebirth of Jesus Christ, many individuals attend church before midnight. At 12 o'clock, it is believed that Jesus is resurrected, and candles are exchanged among people of all ages. This exchange of candles also signifies the end of the fasting period.
Megali Evdomada or Holy Week begins a week before, with Pascha falling on the next Sunday. Holy Week marks the end of Lent and is steeped in tradition. There are a variety of celebrations and customs observed during Holy Week, leading up to Easter.
Celebrating Holy Week and Easter Traditions in Greece
During Holy Week in Greece, which usually falls in April, locals leave their homes and head to summer houses or villages to celebrate Easter. The week leading up to Easter, also known as Pascha, is filled with a variety of traditions and celebrations that are deeply rooted in Greek culture.
While Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of Holy Week may not have significant traditions, Holy Monday celebrates Joseph's life and Jesus Christ's symbolic cursing of the fig tree. Holy Tuesday marks the parable of the 10 virgins, while Holy Wednesday celebrates Mary Magdalene.
On Holy Thursday, Greeks dye eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ and the renewal of life. Children often decorate the eggs while koulourakia (biscuits), and tsoureki (sweet bread) are baked in observance of the day.
The most formidable tradition of Holy Week occurs on Holy Friday morning with the decoration of the Epitaphios, a wooden structure carrying an icon of Christ. The evening procession of the Epitaphios takes place in the streets surrounding the church, accompanied by melancholic church bells ringing throughout the day.
Greek Easter: Holy Saturday Traditions
The spirit is uplifted on Holy Saturday when Christ is resurrected at midnight, and church bells ring happily. People gather at the church at nighttime with white candles and receive decorated lambathas (paschal candles) from their godparents. The candles are then lit by the priest’s candle, known as the ‘holy flame’.The climax happens at midnight, the moment of Christ’s resurrection, with the priest announcing ‘Xristos Anesti’ (Christ has risen).
After the climax moment of Christ’s resurrection, each person carries their candle home to bless their home by drawing a cross with the flame above the entrance for protection against evil. This marks the end of Lent, and the first meal typically eaten to celebrate is magiritsa (lamb intestine soup). Children also keep their candles to reuse again at other special liturgies like baptisms and weddings.
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.
Holy Sunday: Celebrating Easter with Loved Ones and Good Food
This is the day to celebrate Easter with loved ones and indulge in good food. The highlight of the day is the lamb roasting on a spit while music, laughter, and chatter surround it. This day is all about spending time with loved ones and enjoying a joyful Easter feast. A common tradition is to say 'Kalo Pascha' which means a joyful Easter! Make sure to take the time to enjoy the day and create memories with your family and friends.
Signature Easter Celebrations Across Greece
Chios Fireworks Battle: An Unconventional Easter Tradition
The town of Vrontados in Chios is known for its unique Easter tradition that involves a fireworks battle between two rival churches. The churches of St. Mark and St. Erithiani, located 400 meters away from each other, engage in a fierce competition by throwing fireworks until they hit each other's bells.
(photo by Lucky Trip)
Easter on Corfu Island: Pot-Smashing and Processions
Corfu Island offers a one-of-a-kind Easter experience with its own set of customs and traditions. On Holy Saturday, after the Resurrection Mass, people return to their homes and perform the famous pot-smashing ritual, where they throw pots and even plates and glasses from their windows. The island also hosts solemn processions featuring the Epitaphios, a wooden structure carrying an icon of Christ, and the Philharmonic Orchestras.
Holy Week Traditions in Mainland Greece
Various towns and cities in mainland Greece have their own unique customs and traditions during Holy Week. On Holy Thursday, people dye eggs red to symbolize the blood of Christ, and bake koulourakia (biscuits) and tsoureki (sweet bread). On Holy Friday, the streets are filled with mournful church bells, and women and children decorate the Epitaphios. Holy Saturday marks the end of Lent, with the Resurrection Mass and the lighting of the holy flame. The day concludes with the breaking of red eggs and the first meal of magiritsa (lamb intestine soup).
Crete's Easter Celebrations: Raki and Lamb on the Spit
In Crete, Easter is a time for feasting, drinking raki (a traditional alcoholic drink), and roasting lamb on a spit. The island also hosts religious processions featuring the Epitaphios and the burning of Judas, where effigies of Judas are set on fire. On Holy Saturday, people gather in the main squares of cities and towns to witness the Resurrection Mass and the lighting of the holy flame.
Easter in Zakynthos: Music, Dance, and Gastronomic Delights
Zakynthos Island celebrates Easter with a mix of religious and secular traditions. On Holy Thursday, people dye eggs and bake tsoureki, while on Holy Friday, the streets are filled with mournful church bells and the Epitaphios processions. On Holy Saturday, people attend the Resurrection Mass and the lighting of the holy flame, followed by music, dance, and gastronomic delights. The island is also famous for its Venetian-style Carnival festivities, which take place in the days leading up to Lent.
Overall, Greeks hold tightly to their customs and traditions, especially during Easter. Witnessing these practices firsthand is the best way to experience the rich culture and history of Greece.