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Orthodox Easter

Orthodox Easter 2018 and 2019

Orthodox Easter is often thought to be one of the most important holidays included in the Grecian calendar. Commemorating not only the crucifixion and resurrection, Easter is considered to mark the passing of winter to spring.

20186 AprFriOrthodox Good Friday
8 AprSunOrthodox Easter Sunday
9 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday
201926 AprFriOrthodox Good Friday
28 AprSunOrthodox Easter Sunday
29 AprMonOrthodox Easter Monday
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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. 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 western Easter celebrations.

Orthodox Good Friday

Good Friday is considered to be a sacred day in Greece. The day starts out with local young 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 recognized as a mournful day in which flags in homes and businesses around the country are set to half-mask in remembrance.

It is said that on Good Friday, devout Christians spend the day fasting- meaning they do not eat at all. The atmosphere surrounding the holiday is somber and is one of remembrance and mourning.

Orthodox Easter Saturday

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 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.

The atmosphere on Easter Saturday is one of joy- family and friends gather for a momentous event that turns into a festive dinner party that often times will last long into the night.

Orthodox Easter Sunday

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.

Orthodox Easter Monday

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.

Celebrations across Greece

Grecian Easter traditions vary slightly across the nation. While the basic principles of the holiday remain the same, there are subtle differences and specific events that vary by the region. Here are a few famous affairs that occur during the Easter holidays in different areas around Greece:

  • Easter in Corfu: On Saturday morning, the “Pot throwing” custom starts the day. Locals throw ceramic pots out of their windows. They believe that by smashing them onto the street below it banishes death and evil spirits. The procession of the holy body of Saint Spyridon also takes place on Holy Saturday. This process was established in 1550, when the Saint saved the island from a famine. His body, which has yet to decompose, is carried throughout the town in the belief that it will perform miracles. On Easter Sunday, churches parade a resurrection icon around the town centre.
  • The Rocket War of Chios: In Vordados village, 5 km from Chios, rival churches partake in a rocket war, releasing thousands of homemade rockets across town towards each other the night before Easter. The objective is to hit the rival congregation’s bell tower. The tradition supposedly dates back to the Ottoman Empire.
  • St. George Festival of Arachova: On the second day of Easter, the icon of Saint George is carried throughout the village as the start of a three day festival in his honour. Locals don traditional costuming and perform a traditional “Panigyraki” dance to bag pipes. The residents then compete in an uphill race for the chance to win a living lamb.
  • The Saitopolemos of Kalamata: This custom dates back to the revolution fights of 1821. The Kalamatan townspeople used a type of firework (called Saitas) to startled the Turkish horses and help them win the battles. On Easter, men in traditional costuming detonate the Saitas while still carrying them, making loud noises.
  • The Burning of Judas in Metres: Children go door to door the Thursday before Easter collecting sticks to use in the burning of the effigy of Judas Iscariot. The following day, on Good Friday, they light the effigy and proceed to scatter a handful of ashes on the tombs.
  • The Easter Dances of Ierissos: In Ierissos, they relive the “Field of the Doomed Youth”. The elders begin dancing and then invite everyone to join in and hold hands in a dancing circle that can extend up to 400 metres. Easter songs continue throughout the day’s celebrations and end with the “Kageleftos” dance. This represents the slaughter of 400 locals by the Ottomans during the revolution. In the Kageleftos dance, dancers pass under an arch of laurel leaves. At the end of the arch are two young men with raised swords. They serve red eggs and tsourekia as well as traditional “zografitikos” coffee, which is served boiling in a large cauldron.

Religious customs throughout the Easter celebrations have remained unchanged over centuries, being passed from generation to generation. Easter brings together several aspects of cultural influences of the nation for a beautiful week of celebration and commemoration of the religious and political histories of Grecian culture. Visitors to Greece during this time of year will bear witness to a sacred and magnificent time celebrating the resurrection of the body of Christ, as well as the symbolic end of winter and beginning of spring. Hints of Venetian and pagan influences combine with Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism to bring you a truly touching experience. Grecian Easter carries not only a deeply rooted religious facet, but also a magical quality of the first signs of spring.