Greek Easter 2023 – Unique Traditions and Customs

Greek Easter is the most important religious and cultural celebration in Greece. Here are some of the unique Greek Orthodox Easter traditions and customs.

Greek Orthodox Easter Traditions

Greek Easter is the most significant Holy Day in Greece. The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, along with the arrival of spring, when everything is reborn.

Greek Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Overall, 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.

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.

Religious celebrations in Greece for Easter

It is important to note that many non-religious Greeks follow many of those traditions, as they are a big part of the Greek culture.

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.

Greek stuffed tomatoes and peppers Lent food

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, 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.

Red dyed eggs for Easter in Greece

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.

Red eggs for Greece Easter

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!!!

Greece Easter traditions - Making a tsoureki

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.

Easter tsoureki traditional sweet bread in Greece

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.

Koulourakia Easter cookies in Greece

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.

Good Friday Epitafios procession before Easter

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. 

The Epitafios religious ritual occurs on Holy Friday in Greece

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.

Easter candles Holy light in Greece

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.

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!

Cracking red Eggs for Greece Easter

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.

Easter chocolate eggs

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.

Greek meat soup mayiritsa traditional Easter dish

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.

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.

Easter in Greece celebrations - People grill lamb

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!

Kokoretsi Greek Easter traditional dish

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!

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 and Meteora. They all have very unique Greek Easter traditions, and you are likely to remember them for years!

Church in Greece

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.

Epitafios procession during Easter in Greece

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!

This can also be a good day to chill out in Athens, jump on the hop-on-hop-off bus, or take a full-day tour to some of the  Greek islands.

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.

Traditional Easter food in Greece

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.

Interested in learning more Greek phrases? Take a look here for the Greek alphabet and some useful words and phrases when visiting Greece.

2022 – Greek 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 western world celebrates Easter - Last Supper painting

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, it’s worth checking the Orthodox Calendar first.

On some years, Eastern and Western Easter fall on the same date. If you are visiting then, make sure that you book your flights or ferries well in advance.

Greek Easter church rituals

FAQ 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.

When is Easter 2023 Greece?

Greek Orthodox Easter 2023 is on 16 April, a week after Catholic Easter 2023. 

If you are an early planner, here is a table with the dates for the next decade! Note that Easter 2025 and Easter 2028 fall on the same dates for both Orthodox and Catholic / Protestant Easter.

Greek Easter calendar Orthodox Catholic

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. Stores are usually open from 1 pm to 7 pm on Friday, 9 am to 6 pm on Good Saturday, and closed on Sunday.

It’s good to know 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

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Hi, I’m Vanessa!

Vanessa from Real Greek Experiences

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! 

6 thoughts on “Greek Easter 2023 – Unique Traditions and Customs”

  1. Beautiful photos,Easter means so much to me especially as I am Greek Orthodox but living in a foreign land.I just have 1 comment to make regarding the Epitafio.Where I was
    born (South Africa)I have to admit the young girls adorn the Epitafio very richly with flowers,really fit for A KING,unlike the one in your bulletin.Not that it is a competition, but I believe that in the xenitia we truly have kept our strict Orthodox upbringing,if I compare Greece and Cyprus even our children are respectful towards others,unlike their Greek counterparts.

    Reply
    • Very interesting comment! I have never been to an Epitafios procession outside Greece actually. I think the Epitafioi here in Greece vary widely. This year we haven’t seen any because of the covid-19 measures, so we’ll need to wait until next year! Happy Easter, Christos Anesti!

      Reply
  2. I am a Turkish guy living in Constantinople and as a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, seeing these beautiful traditions in a country so similar to ours culturally makes me want to hop in a plane and travel to Greece to experience all for myself.

    Reply
    • You definitely should, when this situation is over! I have been to Turkey a few times and, like you say, I find our religious differences fascinating, while so many other aspects of the culture are so similar!

      Reply
  3. Hello! This is incredibly helpful, thank you so much! Me and my husband will be in Naxos in the lead up to Easter and then we’re flying into Athens on Easter Sunday (24 April 2022). We’d love to go to a restaurant and join the festivities – is it likely the smaller restaurants and eateries will be open on Easter Sunday, will it be easy for us to find some great food? If you have any recommendations please let me know!!

    Reply
    • Hi Rosie! If you are staying in the centre, you will be able to find some restaurants and tavernas that serve the special Easter food. Mavro Provato restaurant is known for their Easter meals, but not sure what they are doing this year – perhaps you can check with them if you want to book ahead? Or try Ella that is located more centrally. Enjoy!

      Reply

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