Greek Orthodox Easter: Food and Traditions

Greek Easter eggs

Did you ever experience Greek Easter in Greece? Easter is the most important celebration of the year, with many traditions and special food.
In this article you will read about the traditions that are followed in every region of Greece.
If you would like to celebrate Greek Easter with Omilo, while learning Greek at the same time, you are very welcome in our Greek Easter course in Nafplion.

Fasting and cleaning!

Greek Orthodox Lent is a time of fasting, which means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs, etc.) and fish and seafood with backbones. (The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body as well as the spirit in preparation for accepting the Resurrection at Easter, which is the most sacred of all observances in the Greek Orthodox faith.)

In addition to cleansing the body and spirit, Lent is also a traditional time for spring housecleaning. Houses and walls get new coats of whitewash or paint, and inside, cupboards, closets, and drawers and cleaned and freshened.
Again, this is the “theory”, at least in many houses we know! But it is a nice concept and worth it to follow or give it a try!

The Holy Week

The week before Easter Sunday, the Holy week, begins on Palm Sunday. There are church services everyday commemorating the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. The evening services are the most attended, except for Wednesday when the Service of the Holy Unction is held in the afternoon. On Thursday morning the service commemorates the Last Supper and the Betrayal of Christ. This is the day that the hard-boiled eggs are dyed red,
signifying the blood of Christ, and the Easter bread, called tsoureki, is baked. The evening service on Thursday is a long one and features twelve gospel readings.

For the Omilo students and others visiting Greece, from Friday it starts to get very interesting! The figure of Christ is taken down from the cross. The epitaphios , decorated with flowers by the girls through the night, is brought into the church. The bells of the church can be heard all over and all the flags in Greece are lowered to half-mast. In the evening a “funeral service” is held and at about 9pm the epitaphios is taken from the church and carried through the streets in a procession. Now everybody follows the epithaphios while carrying “beige” candles. We hope there will be not too much wind, since it needs a major effort to keep your candle lighted, and in case you do not succeed, “you are in trouble”!

On Saturday the Orthodox Patriarch breaks the seal of the door of the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and emerges with the Holy Fire, which is then flown by Aegean or Olympic Airways, accompanied by high-ranking priests and government officials to Athens airport where it is met by an honor guard to the small church of Agia Anargyroi in Plaka (center Athens). From there the light is distributed to churches all over Attika and the rest of Greece.

Meanwhile people are shopping for their Easter gifts and buying their lambs of all sizes for Easter Sunday. Athenians who have family-connections to the islands and villages on the mainland are preparing to leave the city, as well as people with no connections!

The Resurrection or Anastasis

At 11pm on Saturday night pretty much the entire country is in church. The lights are turned off at midnight and the priest announces that Christ has arisen from the dead as candles (this day only white candles!) are lit. The tiny glow at the front of the church grows and soon the whole room is illuminated by the light of everyone’s candles. Exactly at midnight the priest sings the paschal hymn:

“Christ has risen from the dead and in so doing has trampled on death and to those in the tombs he has given life”.
The church bells ring in celebration, fireworks go off, ships sound their sirens and the light and sound makes any European New Year celebration seem tame in comparison! People greet each other happily with the words Christos Anesti (Christ has mageritsa Easter souparisen) which is replied to with Alithos Anesti (Truly He has arisen).

Then everyone heads for home with their lighted candles. Most people either stay home or go to a restaurant for the traditional bowl of magiritsa, a thick green soup made from the intestines of the lamb that will be roasted the next day, breaking their 40 day fast. Gunshots, dynamite and fireworks will be going on for the next 12 hours or more, with every year blowing off a finger or two! Just be careful!

Easter Sunday

Easter day is most people’s favorite day of the year. A lamb is roasted (or baked in the oven) and friends and families get together to eat, drink, talk and dance. And this is what we plan to do as well, together with the Omilo students of course! (For the vegetarians around, do not worry! Greek cuisine has a lot of vegetable dishes as well.)

Did you ever celebrate Easter in Greece? Where? What was your first impression?

Have a look how we enjoy the Sunday Easter lunch in Nafplion.