Greek Easter is such a wonderful time to experience in Greece, so many fantastic customs, beautiful church services, mouthwatering meals, it is definitely a week that one should plan to participate in when possible, of course this year celebrations cannot take place as the usually do, however looking to the Easter period of 2021 with Easter Sunday falling on May the 2nd, it is something you can plan ahead to include in your cruising schedule.
Some of the highlights that stand out are:
On Thursday, locals typically bake the traditional bread called “Tsoureki”, which you may also find in almost any bakery or many of the supermarkets. It is a sweet bread, typically seasoned with orange zest, mastic resin or mahleb. This bread contains several ingredients that were forbidden during Great Lent such as eggs, butter, and sugar.
Eggs are also dyed, most commonly in red colour, to symbolize the blood of Christ.
The locals gather on Thursday evening before Easter to hear the melodic Hymn of Kassiani, also known as the Hymn of the Fallen Woman. The hymn is only heard once a year and the church.
The most important church ceremonies of the week take place on- Holy Friday or Good Friday – is considered a day of mourning and not of work. Tradition has it that Christ has descended to Hades on that day, he spoke and converted many of the souls that were held captive, taking them to paradise with him. A ritual, called the “Procession of the Epitaphios of Christ”, takes place in the evening. Before that, the faithful attend church to decorate the Epitaphios (Bier of Christ) with flowers. Later, this symbolic decorated “coffin” is carried through the streets by the faithful as part of the evening service. The procession takes place with hundreds of followers carrying single candles from the church and accompanied by singing or a band and is a beautiful tradition to partake in.
On Holy Saturday, the Eternal Flame is brought to Greece by a military jet and is distributed to waiting priests who carry it to their local churches. The event is always televised and if there’s a threat of bad weather or a delay, the entire country agonizes until the flame arrives safely. On the morning of Holy Saturday, preparations begin for the next day’s Easter feast. The traditional “mayiritsa” soup, which uses the organs and intestines of the lamb that will be roasted, is prepared. This will be eaten after the midnight service.
The midnight Service of the Resurrection is an occasion attended by all locals. Each person holds a white candle that is only used for this occasion. Shortly before midnight, all lights are extinguished and the churches are lit only by the Eternal Flame on the altar. When the clock passes midnight, the Priest calls out “Christos Anesti” (“Christ is risen”) and passes the flame (i.e. the light of the Resurrection) to those nearest him. The flame is then passed from person to person and it isn’t long before the church and courtyard are glowing with flickering candlelight. The Eternal Flame is then carried home, where locals gather around the table for a traditional meal to break the fast of lent and enjoy the “mayiritsa”. Before the dyed eggs are eaten, there is the traditional “tsougrisma”, where you tap the end of your egg against your opponent’s, trying to crack it.
The feast of Easter Sunday is well celebrated in Greece, especially at the meat taverns in the outer city suburbs and around the city itself. A breakfast of tsoureki, dyed eggs and koulouria, traditional Easter biscuits are enjoyed followed by a feast of meat (lamb on the spit traditionally) along with much wine or Souma and plenty of Greek dancing and celebrations late into the afternoon.
Some of the areas to consider celebrating Easter at are Corfu, Hydra & Spetses, Kalymnos, Kastellorizo and Patmos, these islands have some unique customs but Easter is celebrated everywhere and is a wonderful time of year to experience when visiting the country.