Title image

Greek Easter Traditions

Growing up as an Australian Greek, I feel like there are some important traditions to pass on to my kids; Greek school, Greek dancing, celebrating name days; but by far the biggest traditions are the religious ones such as how we celebrate Greek Easter.

I know Dave has done his take on Greek Easter, now I will do mine. Easter is the biggest religious celebration in the Greek Orthodox Church. If you are ever lucky enough to be in Greece for Easter you will find massive feasts in the town squares normally featuring a Lamb on the spit, decorated candle stick hanging in shop windows, even some pretty impressive Easter cards.

So what make it so special? Well it starts with the preparation, Easter involves 40 days of fasting for lent, and finishes with special masses during holy week. Which concludes with a midnight mass on Saturday night leading into Easter Sunday, where everyone goes home after church to break the Lent fasting, eating specially prepared soup Magiritsa.

Photo by Romtomtom

I used to cop some flack from mates about Greek Easter being after “Australian Easter” as this meant we could buy cheaper Chocolate Egg. Mr F asked the other morning “When is third Easter?” he is so cute sometimes. There are three reasons why the Easters can be at different times.

Greek Easter is celebrated when?

1) It is not before the celebration of Passover, respect to Jesus’ Jewish background.
2) The Orthodox Church uses the Julian Calendar, before the current Gregorian calendar, that was taken up by the other Christians churches.
3) Finally, it is after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (northern hemisphere), which is fixed on the calendar at 21st of March for the purpose of calculating Easter.

Depending on how religious a person you are determines the level of fasting you will do for Lent. Yes I know you think of lent as a time you get to choose to give something up like: chocolate, going out for drinks or something like that, well the Greek tradition its hard-core food fasting for forty days.

It’s basically a strict Vegan diet. That right NO animal products: meat, dairy, eggs or fish with a backbone (but you can have shellfish); wine and alcoholic drinks, the one other thing is olive oil. I don’t do the forty days of fasting, I’m hard pressed to do the week these days. I have once tried to go the forty days when I was about 18 that was well before vegan recipes were easy to find (for more details about  fasting.)

Another big part of Greek Easter is attending church services. Yes with an “S” plural meaning more then one. This starts with Lazarus Saturday the day before Holy Week starts. It is important as he was resurrected representing all man kind can be “saved”.

So many traditions are based in religion.

Palm Sunday, it’s a day where fasting is relaxed as Jesus and his followers were so Joyfully welcomed in to the city of Jerusalem. At mass worshippers are given a small cross-twisted out of palm leaves. This is the start of many church services for the week.

Photo by NapInterrupted
Photo by NapInterrupted

Thursday morning is a celebration of the last super service followed by the night service that evening went the Crucifixion of Jesus happens. Good Friday is the funeral procession of Jesus and this is a very special service and it’s probably my favourite service of Easter week. There is a big Epitaphios (Icon of Christ’s burial).

Greek Easter Traditions
Decorated Epitaphios. Photo by George Karkazis

The Epitaphios is decorated with flowers and carried around the church or surrounding area (depending on where the church is) followed by the worshippers who are holding lite candles as they follow the Epitaphios. When I was young I would wonder what the  the people that lived near the church who would sit looking though their windows be wondering. Is this some kind of movie being shot? What’s going on? Hundreds of people walk around the street with burning candles in the cold. It’s then placed in the doorway to the church where worshippers pass under it blowing out their candles as they do so, and collecting a flower as they go.

On Holy Saturday there is a midnight service, this is the Anastasis (the resurrection). This is the most important day in the Orthodox church. People start arriving for this service as early at 10pm. Everyone has a candle and if they can not fit (or choose not to fit) into the church they are waiting out side the church. This can be a very social event with seeing friends you have not seen in a while and so on.

Greek Easter Traditions

A couple minutes before midnight the church’s lights go out. The priest appears at the altar holding a lit candle. In Greece Altar boys and children are at the front with their candles as the person who gets first light are meant to receive good luck. It’s such a big thing that the child in Greece use mentholated sprits on the candlewicks to help the first light jump onto their candle wick.

Make shift hand protectors are made from cups, cardboard or anything really.

The Holy Light is passed from worshipper to worshipper, saying Christos Anesti (Christ has risen) replied with Alithos Anesti (He has truly risen). The light is taken home, often by a car ride. To amusement and confusion of any passing car, the biggest trick is trying not to get hot wax on you as you go. Now when I used to live in Canberra Easter Saturday had police on standby, as after Christ has risen so would the fireworks.

Photo by Charbel Akhras
Photo by Charbel Akhras

That’s right it was like a crazy pyrotechnic show with more BOOM then lights. I remember one year when was young that there was an almighty BOOM! It was not a normal fire work it was more like a war zone. You may have seen footage from Greece where two Churches fire fireworks at each other.

After mass people head home or to a family member’s house to have a feast breaking the forty days of fasting. Taking with them the light of God. So can you image all these cars leaving church with people holding lit candles in their cars on a Saturday night? I tell you we get a lot of second takes from people as we would drive home that is for sure.

Greek Easter Traditions
Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis

On arriving home, a cross is burned into the top of the front door frame for good luck. You can tell Greek houses that way. Once the formality of setting the light in front of the “Ikona” the feast begins. Traditionally starting with special Easter soup called Magiritsa. We used to head over to my Aunty’s house after church and have the feast, often the kids would not eat the Magiritsa as it was to strong in flavour – being made of Offal.

Greek Easter Traditions
Lamb on the Spit cooking slowly… Yummy!

On Easter Sunday we have a big family gathering, bring extended family together and celebrate with lamb on a the spit. Why Lamb I’m not really sure it might have something to do with the Lamb of God. Either way like in Dave’s post there is an abundances of food.

Greek Easter Traditions     Lamb on the Spit cooking slowly... Yummy!
Mr A’s winning egg.

The Cracking of the Red Eggs the unbroken egg being lucky and held till next year – Mr A. won this year much to his disappointment, he wanted to eat the egg. We even have a chocolate egg hunt for the kids. Most of all its a reason to get the family together and celebrate with a big feast, let the cousins play together.

 How do you celebrate your Easter?

Till next time.

Dad + Three

The following two tabs change content below.

Demos Karkazis

I'm a husband and father of three. I work hard and try and be the best dad I can be (not always a success)

Latest posts by Demos Karkazis (see all)

  • Tash from Gift Grapevine

    Wow – you guys know how to celebrate! So great you are keeping the traditions going with your kids. We have a big Good Friday fish feast each year and an Easter Sunday brunch after mass. The most important (and fun!) thing is having the whole extended family together. And there’s always too much chocolate!

    • Demos Karkazis

      We do the “Australian” Good Friday fish feast as well. I have not been to strict with the kids fasting yet. Yes, so much chocolate consumed here as well.