Easter is not only a season of great importance for the Orthodox Church, but also one of cultural value for Greeks, as it is dipped in tradition. Easter marks the end of the Holy Week that reaches its climax with the Resurrection of Christ on Holy Saturday. In Greece, Easter is called “Pascha”, which stands for Passover; from death to life and from earth to heaven.
When the Christians first began to celebrate Easter, they retained some of the features of the Jewish Passover, but they also added their own. Likewise, in Greece, there are many Easter traditions, unique to different parts of the country, such as the practice of the “Washing of the Disciples’ Feet”, the “Reenactment of the Deposition from the Cross”, the “Rocket War” custom which dates back to the Turkish occupation, etc. But, still, the list of Easter customs and rituals which are traditionally upheld throughout the country is – by far – long and impressive: the cracking of the red-dyed eggs, the burning of Judas, the lit candles being carried from the church to people’s houses, the procession of the Epitaph, the fireworks and crackers that complement the resurrection, and so on.
Holy Week in Greece
Holy Tuesday: In the morning, housewives bake traditional cookies.
Holy Wednesday: In the afternoon, believers receive Holy Unction.
Holy Thursday: In the morning, housewives bake the “tsoureki” (a traditional braided bread) and dye dozens of eggs red (colour red denotes life). At night, following the Divine Mass, young girls decorate the epitaph with garlands of white flowers.
Holy Friday: Commemorating the crucifixion and subsequent death of Jesus, this is a day of mourning. The icon of Christ is taken off the Cross, wrapped in linen and placed in the “Epitaph”, representing his tomb. In the evening, the Epitaph is carried through the town or village and people scatter flowers, holding lighted candles in their hands. Usually the procession is followed by a late night seafood—no fish—dinner.
Holy Saturday: In the evening, the Resurrection Mass takes place. People wait patiently for the holy light to come from inside the church and light the candles in their hands. At the stroke of midnight, the priest announces the resurrection of Christ; “Christos Anesti”, and the dark night fills with the sounds of church bells and firecrackers and the colourful explosions of hundreds of fireworks. Back home, people use the smoke from the burning candles to draw a cross on their doorways, for good luck. And after 40 days of fast, the whole family gathers around the table to see who gets to try that delicious “mageiritsa soup” (made from lamb giblets, rice, vegetables, lemon and vegetables) first and who gets to to crack the most red eggs!
Easter Sunday: At noon, there is the 2nd resurrection: the Liturgy of Love. It is a festive day. Lamb is prepared on the spit and people merrily rejoice, eating and drinking with their loved ones until late at night.