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Travel

Greek Easter Unique Traditions and Customs

April 22, 2022

Known for its vast variety of customs, traditions, and rituals, Greek Easter is the most celebrated religious festivity of the Greek culture. If you’re visiting a Greek city or village this Easter, you’ll be delighted to encounter the cultural and spiritual atmosphere created during this period.

With commitment and devotion, Greek communities around the world deliver Greece’s pure, cultural identity to its people.

The fasting period (Nysteia) is the time before the Greek Easter officially begins, starting on Clean Monday and continuing for 40 days, plus Holy Week. Fasting by the book could be considered quite strict and demanding, but this period of Lent not only cleanses the body, but mind and soul too. The main sacrifice of Lent is typically food, where people abstain from meat, animal products, eggs, dairy, fish, and in rare cases even olive oil.

The Greek Easter eggs represent the blood of Christ (the red color) and rebirth (the egg.) Photo by Petar Milošević via Wikimedia Commons

On special days like Palm Sunday, eating fish is allowed, while on Wednesdays and Fridays devotees endure only on fruits, vegetables, and bread. On Good Friday, some eat only bread and vinegar, reflecting the vinegar that was offered to Jesus on the cross.

A unique Easter pastry that Greeks love is the traditional Tsoureki, also known as Greek sweet bread. With tinges of orange zest seasoning and mastic resin, this simple holiday bread made with milk, butter, and eggs is prepared on Holy Thursday. It’s tempting baking smell makes it a hard to resist treat as it cannot be consumed before Sunday morning due to fasting rules.

Some argue that this tradition is deep rooted in the pagan world, where bread symbolized life, and the braid pattern that is created before baking was a design capable of driving away the evil spirits. During the Ottoman period, Greeks adopted the name, however of a similar version of the bread that can be found today in Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan under the name ‘corek’ or ‘churek’.

The egg historically symbolizes rebirth and a new life, therefore similarly during Greek Easter eggs are dyed red, representing Jesus’ blood during his crucifixion. The dyeing process takes place on Good Thursday. Traditionally, eggs are dyed red using materials such as onion peels and common madder roots, while others take the easy route using store-bought dye.

The red eggs are eaten after the Midnight Resurrection Liturgy, but a fun Greek tradition is for the eggs to be cracked in a kind of competition. The egg-cracking custom comes about when friends and relatives crack the eggs with each other. The one that remains with the strongest, uncracked egg is the winner – the cracked  eggs symbolize the gates of the kingdom of the dead that were shattered during Jesus’ resurrection.

A well-known custom that has been followed through centuries is the Lambada, the candle usually offered by the godfather or godmother to the child that was baptized by him or her. Since the Greek Orthodox Church considers baptism one of the most important events in people’s lives, the godparent of the child has a prominent role in the typical extended-family celebration. Therefore, the Easter candle is a gift every child receives during this time. Since this tradition is mostly followed for children, the candles are mainly colorful, decorated with patterns depending on the interests and hobbies of the receiver. During Holy Week, on Good Saturday, the candle is brought to church in order to receive the Holy Flame.

Greek Orthodox Church during Easter. Photo by Despina Galani via Unsplash

A highlight of Greek Easter is the Epitaphion procession. The clergy and the parishioners carry the Epitaphion or Kouvouklion around the church and through the neighborhood of their parish as a depiction of Jesus’s funeral service. An abundance of beautiful flowers covering the Epitaphion is part of this tradition. On Good Thursday, parishioners visit the churches and villages bringing flowers that are the main decorating ornaments of the Epitaphion. The go-to choices tend to be local flora like lilacs, hyacinths, anemones, daisies, field flowers, lilies, roses, lemon flowers, and violets. The color of each flower has a specific symbolism. For example, purple mirrors mourning, red signifies blood, and white connotes purity.

On Holy Saturday, everyone gathers at church waiting for the moment the priest cries “Christos Anesti” at the Midnight Resurrection liturgy. People then greet each other with “Christos Anesti” while the response is “Alithos Anesti” which means “Truly He has risen.” Family members, relatives, and friends then gather at home to enjoy Easter soup, bringing the end of the fasting period as they enjoy a unique dish called Magiritsa. The soup includes lamb offal, intestines, rice, and vegetables – it is considered as a delicacy of Greek cuisine.

 

 

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