Easter is often considered to be one of the most important holidays included in the Grecian calendar, commemorating not only the crucifixion and resurrection, but to mark the passing of winter to spring.
But wasn’t easter last month, I hear you ask?
Well, in Greece, they follow a modified Julian calendar versus the Gregorian calendar observed by the remainder of the Western world. This sets the Grecian Easter celebrations during a different time period, often up to a month apart from Christian Easter celebrations.
The Greek Easter is celebrated with an entire week of festivities, aptly titled “The Holy Week” with Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Easter Monday being celebrated as public holidays.
Here is the lowdown..
On GOOD FRIDAY, the sacred day of the culmination of the Passion of Christ with the Deposition from the cross and Christ’s burial, people decorate the Epitaph, as the tradition wants the Crown of Thorns of Jesus Christ to be covered with flowers. On this day of bereavement, the devout Christians are supposed not to eat anything. The Epitaph Mass takes place in the evening and then follows the circumambulation; people join the procession on its way through the streets of every single village and city listening to chanters reciting the funeral psalms in a mystic atmosphere of devout concentration.
EASTER SATURDAY, is known as the The Resurrection or “Anastasis”. Preparations for the jovial dinner begin early in the morning with the cooking of the maghiritsa- a type of soup. The faithful begin to gather at churches and squares of the cities and villages before 11 p.m., carrying large white candles. Before midnight, the lights of the churches are put out in symbolism of the darkness that Christ had to endure as he passed through the underworld.At midnight, a priest appears holding a lighted candle taper reciting the phrase “Avto to Fos”, which means “This is the light.” His candle, dubbed “the Holy candle”, is used to light several of the onlookers’ candles, which in turn then light their neighbour’s candles. This continues until the entire square is lit with flickering candle light. The lighting of the candles is said to be the most significant moment of the entire year. The resurrection is proclaimed at exactly midnight, and is celebrated with drums, fireworks, and church bells. The crowd offers the salutation “Christós Anésti” (Christ has risen) to each other, which is responded to with the phrase “Alithós Anésti” (He has truly risen). They then dissipate; returning to their homes to the previously laid festive tables and break their fast with the traditional soup, maghiritsa. Before entering their homes, they make the symbol of a cross in the air with the smoke of the candle above the door. Devout followers are said to light an oil candle inside the home beside their icon-candle and keep this light burning throughout the year. It is said that if you can make it home without your candle going out, you will have a good year.
After the traditional dinner, the family and friends that gathered for dinner will crack red eggs. The game symbolizes resurrection and new life. Easter eggs are dyed red to exemplify the blood of the Christ. The hard shell of the egg is said to replicate the sealed tomb of Christ. Cracking the egg illustrates the resurrection. The rules of the game, called tsougrisma, are as follows:
Two players select a red egg. Each holds their egg and one taps the end of the other’s egg with theirs lightly. The goal is to crack the other’s egg without being forceful. Once an egg is cracked, the winner uses the same end of their red egg to crack the other end of their opponent’s egg. The winner is said to have good luck all year long.
Despite being up throughout the evening for the jubilant Resurrection feast, everyone is up early the next morning to prepare for the Easter Sunday dinner. The most celebrated of the Holy Week, Easter Sunday is a feast of lamb served in honour of the lamb of God. The lamb is usually roasted on a spit outside, and the entire day is celebrated with food, wine, music, friends, and lots of dancing.
EASTER MONDAY is considered to be a day of rest after the week long festivities, and to be honest you’d probably need it! People take the day to prepare for the return to work or school. Leftovers from the week are eaten on this day, and families take the day to revisit the events of the past week. Easter Monday is a public holiday so banks and post offices are closed.
Grecian Easter traditions do vary slightly across the nation though, while the basic principles of the holiday remain the same, there are subtle differences and specific events that vary by the region.
So if you are in Greece over this weekend, be sure to get involved in one of the biggest celebrations of the year!