Easter period starts actually on February or March. On Clean Monday, people begin a 40 – day period of fasting. During those days, they are not allowed to eat meat, dairy and some other products. However most people fast only during the Holy Week or do not fast at all. It is believed that this helps Christians to control their sins.
The Akathist Hymn is a very special event that takes place every Friday during the first five weeks of Easter. Religious people go to churches, where they chant the Hymn without sitting down. It started at 7th century, when Istanbul (or Constantinople back then) was attacked by the Avars. Citizens of the city prayed to the Virgin Mary one night, and according to the tradition a huge tornado destroyed the enemy ships. So it is believed that this is the story behind the Hymn.
But the most outstanding period is the Holy Week. On Palm Sunday the fast is broken, families gather together and eat fish and seafood. This is the day that Jesus arrived to Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday an exceptional custom happens : Greeks dye eggs in the red colour. This colour symbolizes the blood of Jesus and the egg symbolizes His tomb. Some people even decorate them with drawings of flowers.
Good Friday is a very strange day because no matter what month is, whether or not the previous day was hot and sunny, almost every time it’s cloudy. They say that this happens because Christ was crucified then and the sky is “feeling sad”. In evening the event of Epitaph takes place. Epitaph is an embroidered cloth icon of the dead body of Christ, lying on a canopied table covered in flowers. It is taken in procession around the streets, while people follow and chant. There is also the belief that if you pass under the Epitaph, you ‘ll be blessed.
On Holy Saturday, the Resurrection is celebrated all over the country. The Holy Light comes straight from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and is sent to every single city and village of Greece. At night people go to churches holding large candles with decorations, known as “lampades”.
At midnight is the moment that everyone has been waiting for. The priest says “Hristos anesti” (meaning Christ resurrected), the bells start ringing and you can see or hear everywhere fireworks and firecrackers. After that it’s time to have dinner. The meal includes the traditional “mageiritsa” (soup made of lamb entrants and herbs), “tsoureki” (kind of cake), eggs and Easter cookies.
However, one thing that makes Greek Easter so special is the Sunday after the Holy Week, known as Easter Sunday. Families and friends celebrate together from morning till evening. They listen, sing and dance to traditional songs, while drinking and preparing their lunch. And when we say lunch, we mean a lot of food. For those who don’t know, here in Greece we love celebrations very much, and this one happens only once a year, so we want to be an unforgettable moment. Men are responsible for the lamb which is cooked on a spit for many hours. Usually you can also eat “kokoretsi” (lamb entrants cooked on a spit) or “kontosouvli” (pork or sheep meat cooked on a spit). Most families on this day decide to visit their hometown or village, to spend some time with people that they haven’t seen for a long time.
As we said, in many areas of Greece during the Easter you can see some very odd and strange customs. On the morning of Holy Saturday, on Corfu Island people throw jars from their balconies while the philharmonic orchestra plays compositions, including Beethoven. On the same day in Leonidio at 24:00 locals burn an effigy of Judas and release small fly balloons to the sky. Also another one amazing, but very dangerous, custom is the “war” in Vrontados, Chios Island. People throw hand – made rockets from the one church of the village to the other and vice versa, aiming the bell towers. Unfortunately, very often accidents happen.
Greek Easter is so marvelous, not only for us but also for the foreigners who decide to visit Greece during that period. Of course it cannot probably compare with the summer, but if you ever have the chance to enjoy it, don’t miss it.
*Special thanks to Marina Folia, Lilian Karamitsopoulou and tokarfi.gr, blogs.sch.gr, hecucenter.ru, syntaxilte.gr for some of the photos.