Easter in Greece
Although Christmas is the most significant holiday in most Christian countries, this doesn’t really apply to Greece. Easter is a more glamorous holiday in Greece and is far more anticipated by both children and adults. Generally, Easter is the most important holiday of the Orthodox Church, so the same is true for other Orthodox countries like Russia, Serbia, etc.
Again, there are many unique traditions regarding Easter in Greece found at different places across Greece. These traditions date back in time, even before Christ was born. Easter, or “Pascha” in Greek is not just celebrated for a week as one would expect. Well, when I was a child school was closed during the Holy Week and the week the followed, but the celebrations and customs related to Easter started 7 weeks before Easter on “Clean Monday”.
The Epitaph represents Christ’s resting place after crucifixion. A construction made of wood is decorated with thousands of flowers by women on Good Friday. Christ is placed symbolically on the Epitaph in the evening of the same day and then follows the circumambulation through the streets of every single village of city in the country.
Every single church in Greece has its own Epitaph and in many situations they meet at certain points. People follows the Epitaphs and chants funeral psalms, in a mystic atmosphere.
Every celebration in Greece ends up with food. On Easter Saturday morning preparations start for dinner, that takes place after midnight. Everybody eats something light during the day. Before midnight people gather in church holding white candles to receive the Holy Light that arrives from Christ’s grave in Jerusalem and the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at 12.00 sharp, with bells ringing and tons of fireworks and firecrackers.
Then everybody rushes back home to have dinner with family at the festively laid table and crack red colored eggs. The traditional recipe for that special occasion is called “magiritsa”, a soup made of lettuce, lamb parts and intestines. I personally never liked this dish, but it’s traditionally on the menu of that special night. This dinner would certainly be considered plentiful but it is nothing compared to what follows on Easter afternoon. After all it’s the end of a 40-day period of fasting for many Greeks.
Lamb is also the main dish for lunch on Easter day, but cooked differently this time. In most places the lamb is prepared on the spit, but there are a lot places that preface to cook it in the oven. Another delicacy of the day is “kokoretsi”, that is also cooked on the spit. It contains lamb internal organs like kidneys, the heart and liver and is covered with intestines. Again this is not one of my preferences but most people in Greece really love it.
Part of the fun is to manually turn the spit, instead of using a motor. Since the lamb and kokoretsi are slowly cooked for over 5 hours, this is a challenging task, but usually everybody takes his or her turn for no more than an hour.
Special customs and celebrations
In some places, there are unique Easter customs that are not found elsewhere. For example, on the island of Corfu, people throw pots made of clay from their windows or balconies at Easter midnight celebrating the Resurrection of Christ. The island of Chios is famous for the rocket war that takes place between two rival churches. Thousands of rockets are prepared all year long in order to be released at midnight aiming each church. This custom dates back to the age of Turkish Occupation (15th -19th century) and literally turns a whole village into a battlefield.
In Leonidio people make special balloons lit with the Holy Light, that are released in the air again at midnight. The origin of this tradition is unknown, and it is believed that it’s a custom that seamen brought to the place from Asia.
Last but not least, a common custom found in many places around Greece is that of ‘Judas Burning’. An effigy of Judas is made of wood and straw by the locals. Then it is filled with explosives and set on fire… A magnificent event especially in some cases where Judas is placed on a boat and set on fire in the sea!