Orthodox Easter is considered to be one of the most important holiday on the Greek calendar. Commemorating not only the crucifixion and resurrection, Easter is considered to mark the passing of winter to spring.
|2019||26 Apr||Fri||Orthodox Good Friday|
|28 Apr||Sun||Orthodox Easter Sunday|
|29 Apr||Mon||Orthodox Easter Monday|
|2020||17 Apr||Fri||Orthodox Good Friday|
|19 Apr||Sun||Orthodox Easter Sunday|
|20 Apr||Mon||Orthodox Easter Monday|
In Greece, Orthodox 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. The date of Easter here is calculated using a modified Julian calendar versus the Gregorian calendar observed by the Christians and countries in the west.
Good Friday is considered to be a sacred day in Greece. Traditionally, the day starts out with local girls and women decorating a replica (or “epitaph”) of Christ’s funeral bier with flowers. This is then marched through the streets of the villages or neighbourhoods in the city following an evening mass entitled “The Epitaph Mass.”
Encompassed in the epitaph circumambulation are multiple choruses and bands. There are some areas in Greece that add a twist to the ceremony by burning effigies of Judas Iscariot. You can find these celebrations in areas such as Crete. Good Friday is recognised as a mournful day in which flags in homes and businesses around the country are set to half-mask in remembrance.
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. Fireworks light up the sky in a majestic display. 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 symbolises 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.
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. 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.