Greek Easter is the most important religious and cultural celebration in Greece. In 2024, Greek Easter is celebrated on the 5th May. Here are some of the unique Greek Orthodox Easter traditions and customs.
Greek Orthodox Easter Traditions
Greek Easter, also known as Greek Orthodox Easter, is the most significant Holy Day in Greece. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which coincides with the arrival of spring, when everything is reborn.
Apart from its religious significance, Easter is a great opportunity for Greeks to rejoice, eat, drink, socialize and be merry. People visiting Greece during Greek Orthodox Easter can observe and participate in our unique traditions.
I’m Vanessa from Athens, and I find Greek Easter a very unique celebration. So, if you want to get a little closer to the Greek culture, start planning your next trip to experience Easter in Greece!
Greece Easter Traditions
There are many Easter traditions in Greece. Some of them are related to church services. There are several liturgies throughout Lent, the seven-week period before Easter, and during the Holy Week. As an example, the Unction takes place on Holy Wednesday.
Other Easter traditions have to do with food. During Lent, many foods are not allowed. On Holy Saturday and Easter Day, Greeks prepare a few special dishes.
These traditions are a huge part of the Greek culture. Many Greeks follow them – even people who are non-religious. Here is what to expect if you visit Greece in Easter.
1. Fasting during Lent
The seven-week period before Easter is called Lent, known in Greek as Sarakosti. During that time, some Orthodox Christians go on a special fast, which we call nistia, in order to cleanse themselves in preparation for Easter.
Many people only fast on the Holy Week. This is the last week of Lent, between Palm Sunday and Holy Saturday. In Greek, we call it Megali Evdomada, which literally translates to Grand Week.
Greek fasting is similar to a vegan diet, with the addition of seafood, and sometimes excluding olive oil and wine. During Lent, many restaurants serve special dishes, which we call nistisima.
You can find many Lent dishes in this article about Greek food.
Lent begins on Clean Monday, also known as Ash Monday. Greeks celebrate this public holiday with feasts of Lent foods and flying kites. Certain days, like the Greek Independence / Annunciation Day, call for the consumption of fish.
In fact, according to the Greek Orthodox religion, people are supposed to give up all pleasures of the flesh during Lent. This concerns much more than food, aaaaand I’ll leave the rest to your imagination!
2. Dyeing the Red Easter eggs on Holy Thursday
In Greece, Easter eggs are not chocolate eggs. They are real chicken eggs, but not the usual ones – they are first hard boiled, and then dyed red.
Traditionally, women used to dye the eggs on Holy Thursday, using a colorant produced from onion peel. This gave the eggs a deep red color, which is symbolic of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Nowadays, we normally buy special red dye to paint the eggs. Ready-made red eggs are also available at supermarkets and street markets.
Some people paint the eggs in different colors, or decorate them using tree leaf patterns or stickers. My friend NenaM created the fancy ones above!
On Easter Sunday, people play a traditional game of cracking the red eggs. More on this, later.
3. Baking Easter sweets – Tsoureki and koulourakia
On Holy Thursday, women traditionally prepare two types of Easter sweets – tsoureki and koulourakia.
The tsoureki is a type of traditional sweet bread, with a fluffy, chewy texture. It contains flour, butter, eggs, sugar, milk and spices. Making a tsoureki is an important Easter tradition in Greece. Here’s my dad making one!!!
It takes a long time to make the Greek Easter bread, but it’s a fun procedure, and children are normally happy to participate. We often decorate each tsoureki with a red egg.
If you are here for a vacation, ask the locals where to get the best tsoureki and they will point out their favourite bakery. If they make their own, they will definitely treat you to some. Try it plain, with orange marmalade or with a glass of milk.
As for koulourakia, they are generic crunchy cookies. They typically contain butter, eggs, sugar, flour and spices, and come in different shapes. They go very well with Greek coffee, or milk.
4. The Epitafios procession on Good Friday
On the evening of Good Friday, every church in Greece mourns the death of Jesus, and organizes an Epitafios procession.
The Epitafios is a wooden construction covered with a piece of precious cloth, often adorned in gold and silver. It depicts the dead body of Jesus, and is usually decorated with flower petals.
During this ceremony, the Epitafios is carried around every single town and village in Greece. People follow the procession around the neighbourhood, carrying candles.
The procession begins and ends at the church, and it’s a uniquely solemn event. On some Greek islands, like Tinos, the Epitafios is carried into the sea, to protect the sailors and bless the water.
If you are in Athens, you can follow the Epitafios processions in Plaka. It’s definitely worth attending if you are interested in Greek culture and traditions.
5. The Anastasi (Resurrection) on Easter Saturday
On Holy Saturday, there are various church services during the day. Late in the evening, people gather outside the church in expectation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we call Anastasi in Greek.
The Holy Light, which signifies the Resurrection, arrives from Jerusalem. Exactly at midnight, the flame quickly spreads among the crowd as everyone in the congregation lights their candle.
People kiss each other on the cheek, repeating the phrases “Christos Anesti” (Jesus has risen) and “Alithos Anesti” (He has truly risen).
This is a solemn event, but it is now one of joy, and is accompanied by loud chiming bells and plenty of fireworks and firecrackers.
Then everyone returns home, holding their lit candles. It is customary to make a cross out of candle smoke on the ceiling, just above the entrance door. This symbolizes the fact that Christ is risen from the dead.
6. Cracking the red eggs
As everyone returns home after the Anastasi, it’s time for some fun! The family sits around the table, and everyone gets ready to crack the red eggs into each other.
Everyone picks a couple of eggs, trying to find the ones that look best for the cracking game.
One person holds their egg in their hand, and the other person tries to break the egg saying the phrase “Christos Anesti”. The response is “Alithos Anesti”. Sometimes both eggs might break!
Everyone gets to crack a number of eggs with other people. The person who is left with the only uncracked egg is the winner, and will have good luck for the next year to come. In the end, everyone gets to eat their eggs.
Cracking the eggs is symbolic of the Resurrection of Jesus, and the eternal life.
Apart from the Easter eggs, it is possible to find chocolate eggs in Greece during Greek Orthodox Easter. However, there is no custom to hide them around the garden, like in some other countries.
7. Eating the mayiritsa Easter soup
After eating the eggs, Greeks have the traditional midnight meal, which we call magiritsa or mayiritsa.
This is a special soup containing goat or lamb intestines, kidneys and other inside parts. It also contains rice, herbs and lots of lemon, to balance the strong flavor and take some of the meatiness away.
Magiritsa is a heavy, filling soup, that won’t appeal to everyone. Its consumption signifies the end of the fasting period, and it’s only prepared for this special occasion. And for anyone who has fasted for the full Lent, it’s a truly festive dinner.
8. Feasting on goat or lamb on Easter Sunday
Meat lovers, rejoice! After the long period of Lent, it’s time for Greeks to go back to one of the country’s favourite foods – meat.
Greek Easter food is intrinsically tied to feasting on lamb and goat on the spit. This is prepared on Easter Sunday everywhere around Greece. Many towns and villages have designated areas where people cook several lambs and goats, for many hours.
The procedure begins early in the morning and continues until late in the evening. Apart from roasted lamb or goat, you can usually find kokoretsi and gardoumpes, meat delicacies made with the various lamb and goat entrails.
A proper Easter table also has potatoes, salads, various pies and the red Easter eggs. Not to mention wine, beer, and more Greek drinks. This is a good chance to listen to some traditional Greek folk music and try some dancing!
In some areas of Greece, Easter might tie in with the celebrations of St George’s day and go on for two or three days. One of these places is Arachova village, close to the Archaeological site of Delphi. If you happen to be there, you’ll have a total blast! I promise that you will remember this Easter Sunday feast forever!
Where to Celebrate Greek Easter
The best places to go for Greek Easter are outside the main cities. If you can visit a smaller town, a village or one of the Greek islands, you will experience a very traditional Greek Easter.
Check out destinations like Patmos, Corfu, Andros, Chios, Syros, Hydra, Kalamata, Olympos Karpathos and Meteora. They all have very unique Greek Easter traditions, and you are likely to remember them for years!
Moreover, spring is one of the best times of year to visit Greece. The weather is pleasant, and tourist numbers are still low. It might still be too cold to swim for some people, but you will be rewarded with lovely nature and flowers everywhere.
Celebrating Easter in Athens
Easter is best spent in the rural areas, which is why many Athenians go to celebrate in their hometowns. However, if you are in Athens for Easter, you will always find things to do.
On Good Friday, you can stroll around Plaka, and attend the Epitafios evening church service. Notice the sad chime of the church bells, mourning for the death of Jesus.
On Good Saturday, visit one of the churches in central Athens to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. Be prepared for the hundreds of fireworks – if you have young kids, they might get scared.
Easter Sunday is a public holiday, and all stores and tourist attractions remain closed. Therefore, you can just follow the unique Greek Easter traditions. Get together with a few friends, eat lamb and drink wine like there’s no tomorrow!
How to say Happy Easter in Greek
“Happy Easter” is a fairly easy couple of words in Greek – Kalo Pascha!
However, the egg-cracking phrases, Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti, are used more often. Try to memorize them, as you will be greeted with smiles, and maybe some treats.
Another phrase that you will hear often before Saturday night, is Kali Anastasi, which literally translates to “Good Resurrection”. These days, it is used as a way of wishing people to enjoy themselves.
2024 – Greek Easter and Christian Orthodox Calendar
Have you ever wondered why Greek Orthodox Easter is usually celebrated after the Catholic / Protestant Easter? This happens because the Orthodox Church uses the Greek Orthodox calendar, which is based on the Julian calendar.
The Catholic and Protestant Churches follow the Gregorian calendar. This was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, and replaced the Julian calendar.
The calculation of the exact date of the Greek Orthodox Easter is a little complicated, and it is related to Passover, the spring equinox, and the full moon. You can find a long explanation here.
So, although Christmas is celebrated on the same day in all Christian countries, Easter is not.
If you are planning a trip to Greece in spring, and you are coming from Europe, the United States or Australia, make sure you check the Orthodox Christian Calendar first.
On some years, Eastern and Western Easter fall on the same date. If you are visiting then, you will need to book your flights or ferries very well in advance, as many Greeks travel on those dates.
FAQs about Easter in Greece
Here are a few questions visitors often ask:
Is Greek Easter the same as Orthodox Easter?
People use the terms Greek Easter, Orthodox Easter and Greek Orthodox Easter interchangeably. In Greek, this religious day is known as Agio Pascha, which means Holy Easter.
What is the significance of Easter in Greece?
Easter is the most important religious celebration in Greece. It commemorates Jesus Christs’ agony, death and resurrection. As it’s always in spring, it is also a symbol of rebirth and renewal.
Why is Easter a different date in Greece?
Orthodox churches around Europe follow the Julian calendar, which was launched in 45 BC. The Protestant and Catholic churches follow the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the Julian calendar in 1582.
What do Greeks eat on Greek Easter?
Greeks prepare special dishes for Easter Day. Among others, you will find grilled lamb or goat on the spit, and hard boiled eggs which have been dyed red. There are other meat based recipes, such as kokoretsi, goat intestines wrapped around offal.
Why do Greek Orthodox crack eggs at Easter?
On Easter Sunday, Greeks play a traditional game of cracking red dyed eggs. The color red symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, and the cracking of the shell symbolizes his breakthrough resurrection from the dead.
What is the Holy Light / Holy Fire?
On the eve of Orthodox Easter, a miraculous light is said to glow from what is widely believed to be the Tomb of Christ. This is called the Holy Light in Greek, and is also known as Holy Fire. This light comes all the way from Jerusalem to Greece, and is used to light up the Easter candles after midnight, which is symbolic of Christ’s resurrection.
When is Easter 2024 Greece?
Greek Orthodox Easter 2024 is on 5 May, a few weeks after Catholic Easter 2024 and Protestant Easter 2024.
If you are an early planner, here is a table with Easter dates for the current decade. Note that, on some years, Orthodox and Catholic / Protestant Easter fall on the same dates. This is the case for Easter 2025, which falls on 20 April.
Always remember that Holy Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays for some people, and some services are affected.
Archaeological sites and museums have shorter opening hours on Holy Friday and Saturday, and are closed on Easter Day. These may vary from year to year, so please check the official website of each attraction you are planning to visit.
Stores are usually open from 13:00 to 19:00 on Good Friday, 9:00 to 18:00 pm on Good Saturday, and remain closed on Sunday.
You should also note that on some years, Easter happens to be close to the 1st of May, which is a strike day. There are normally public transportation strikes, including the Athens Metro and the Athens airport metro.
What is Easter called in Greek?
In Greek, Easter is called Pascha – pronounced with a very harsh H!
More articles about Greek culture
If you liked this article about Easter in Greece and Eastern Christian traditions, take a look at these other ones:
- Greek celebrations – Religious and cultural festivals in Greece
- Religion in Greece – Learn more about our religious traditions
- Namedays in Greece – Yes, Greeks celebrate their namedays!
- The OXI day in Greece – Why 28th October is so special in Greece!
- Movies about Greece – Much more than the Big Fat Greek Wedding!
- Quotes about Greece – To inspire your next Greek holiday!
- Best time to visit the Greek islands – Not necessarily summer!
- Little Kook Cafe Athens – Seasonally themed cafe and street area
- Best things to do on a Sunday in Athens – And why Sundays are different!
Hi! I am Vanessa from Athens, and I love helping people discover more about Greek traditions and customs. Easter is our biggest religious holiday. Some of my family and friends fully respect every single Greek Easter tradition. This includes the culinary ones – Lent fasting, making tsoureki, eating the whole lamb and cracking the red Easter eggs! If you ever visit Greece and celebrate Orthodox Easter, I assure you that you’ll remember it for many years to come!