Visiting Greece during Easter is an interesting experience for anyone keen on Greek culture and traditions. Here’s some of the Greek Easter traditions you can expect.
Easter Time in Greece
Greek Easter is one of the most interesting times of the year to be in our country. The weather is pleasant, the tourist hordes have not arrived yet, and there are many Greek Easter traditions that a visitor can observe.
If you want to get a little closer to the Greek culture, check out the Greek Orthodox Calendar and start planning your next trip around Greek Easter.
Greek Orthodox Calendar
Many first-time visitors to Greece are unaware of the fact that Greek Orthodox Easter and Catholic / Protestant Easter are rarely on the same day. In fact, there are many people who don’t know the differences between Catholic, Protestant and Greek Orthodox religions – but we won’t go into detail.
Greek Easter is generally celebrated on a different date to Catholic or Protestant Easter. This is because the Greek Church uses the Greek Orthodox calendar, based on the Julian calendar.
The Catholic and Protestant Churches follow the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 and replaced the Julian calendar.
So although Christmas is celebrated on the same day in all Christian countries, Easter is not. If you are planning a trip to Greece over Greek Easter, you can check the Greek Orthodox Calendar for the next 10 years here.
Greek Orthodox Easter 2020 and 2021
The Greek Orthodox Easter 2020 is on 19 April, while in 2021, it falls on May the 2nd. In general, the weather is expected to be nice in most areas of Greece.
It will be a perfect opportunity to spend some time on one of the islands, and perhaps tie it in with a few days in Athens. You might even be able to swim!
If you are organizing a trip to Greece for Greek Easter 2021, we suggest against planning any travelling on May the 1st, as transportation strikes typically happen. As a rule, ferries don’t run on that day.
Greece culture and traditions
As the church has an overall important role in Greece, several aspects of the Greek culture are linked to the Orthodox religion. A good example are the periods of religious fasting throughout the year, which add up to a whopping 180 days or so.
Greek religious fasting is very close to a vegan diet. In fact, people are supposed to give up the pleasures of the flesh, and you can interpret this any way you want! However, for some undetermined reason seafood (but not fish) is allowed. We call these foods nistisima and you might even see this word in a special restaurant menu.
The longest consecutive period of fasting is Lent, the seven weeks before Easter, which add up to a total of 48 days. Lent begins on Clean Monday, a public holiday celebrated throughout the country with feasts of Lent foods and flying kites. On certain days, like the Greek Independence / Annunciation Day, fish can be eaten.
If you are finding all this strange, all we can say is this is Greece – our culture and traditions are quite unique!
Greek Easter traditions
You are probably wondering if there are other Greek Easter traditions apart from fasting. There are several, most of which are related to church attendance and customs.
Special church services begin on the Friday after Clean Monday. Unique hymns and liturgies are recited, related to Jesus’ role and Orthodoxy. These special masses continue for a few weeks.
On the week before Easter, called Megali Evdomada (Grand Week) in Greek, there are different Orthodox church traditions.
Οn Good Thursday, the ceremonies and masses in the church are tied to the Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal. A re-enactment of the Crucifixion takes place in the evening.
On Good Friday, processions of decorated Epitafioi take place. The Epitafios is a wooden construction covered with flowers and a piece of precious cloth, often decorated in gold and silver. It depicts the dead body of Jesus, and is carried around every city, town and village in Greece for an hour or so. People follow the procession holding lit candles.
The Epitafios procession is a very solemn event and definitely worth attending if you are interested in Greek culture and traditions.
On Good Saturday, there are several masses and liturgies during the day. However, the big event is at midnight, when the Holy Flame arrives from Jerusalem and everyone lights their candle.
This signifies Jesus’ resurrection, and the flame quickly spreads to all followers before they return home. It is customary to make a cross out of candle smoke on the ceiling, just above the entrance door.
This is the end of the fasting period, and it’s now time for celebrations and Greek Easter food!
Greek Easter food
Meat lovers visiting Greece during Easter time, rejoice! After a long period of fasting, it’s time for Greeks to go back to one of the country’s favourite foods – meat.
Before going to the church on Saturday night, a special soup called mayiritsa has been prepared to be eaten after midnight. The ingredients for this soup are lamb or goat insides and rice, and also lemon, to take some of the meatiness away. It’s a heavy, filling soup that some people love and others hate.
However, Greek Easter food is intrinsically tied to feasting on lamb and goat on the spit. This is prepared on Easter Sunday everywhere around the country. There are designated areas where several lambs and goats will be cooked whole, for several hours.
The procedure begins early in the morning and continues until late in the evening. In some areas like Arachova, it might tie in with the celebrations of St George’s day and go on for two or three days. This is a chance to rejoice after the resurrection of Jesus, eat, drink, socialize and be merry.
Greek Easter Cuisine
Apart from the lamb on the spit, there are many more meat recipes that you might like to try. Some of the most famous Greek Easter dishes are kokoretsi and gardoumpes, made with the various insides of the lambs and goats.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian don’t worry. It is quite common to also have salads, bread, spinach pie and cheese pie that most Greeks won’t really care for, as we love our meat.
You can find out more here about food in Greece.
Greek Easter eggs – Red eggs Greek Easter
Special reference goes to Greek Easter eggs. Unlike in other cultures, these are not chocolate eggs. It is possible to find chocolate eggs during Greek Easter, but there is no custom to hide them around the garden, like in some other countries.
Greek Easter eggs are chicken eggs, but not the usual ones – they are boiled and painted red! Greek Easter traditions call for an interesting cultural experience, which has to do with cracking the eggs into each other.
Painting the eggs red symbolizes the blood of Jesus. They are traditionally painted on Good Thursday, and occasionally decorated using different methods such as tree leaf patterns.
On Easter Sunday, every person gets one or more eggs, and plays the cracking game with other people. One person holds their egg in their hand, and the other person tries to break the egg saying the phrase “Christos Anesti” – Christ has risen. The response is always “Alithos Anesti” – He has truly risen. Then you get to eat the eggs.
Greek Easter cookies
If you have a sweet tooth, chances are you would be looking forward to Greek Easter desserts. There are generally two types of sweets prepared for Easter in Greece – Greek Easter cookies, and Greek Easter tsoureki.
The Greek Easter cookies or koulourakia are generic crunchy cookies, containing butter, eggs, sugar and flour. They go very well with Greek coffee.
The Greek tsoureki is a type of sweet, chewy bread, containing pretty much the same ingredients as well as milk, but has a very different taste and texture. Ask the locals where to get the best tsoureki and they will definitely point out their favourite, or treat you to some. Try it plain, with orange marmalade or with a glass of milk.
How to say Happy Easter in Greek
If you are in Greece for Easter, it makes sense to learn how to say “Happy Easter” in Greek. It is actually a fairly easy couple of words – Kalo Pasha! However, the egg-cracking phrases are actually used more often, so try to memorize those as well. You will be greeted with smiles, and quite possibly treats.
Interested in learning more Greek phrases? Take a look here for more useful Greek words when visiting Greece.
Where to celebrate Greek Easter
We’ll be honest – the best places to go for Greek Easter are outside the main cities. If you can visit a town, village or an island, you will experience a very traditional Greek Easter.
Destinations like Patmos, Corfu, Chios, Syros, Hydra, Arachova, Kalamata and Meteora have very unique Greek Easter traditions during Greek Easter time. The celebrations are likely to stay in your memory forever!
What to do in Athens during Easter
While Easter is best spent in the rural areas, if you are in Athens for Easter you will always find things to do. If you want to know what to do in Athens at Easter, here are some suggestions.
Good Friday in Athens
On the evening of Good Friday, do not miss the Epitafios procession. There is bound to be a procession somewhere close to where you are staying, but we recommend the one that goes all around Plaka. It is a unique, solemn event, symbolizing the death of Jesus.
Because of the fasting tradition, there are still many vegan foods to be tasted on Good Friday, so ask for any special dishes in the menu.
Note that, on that day, the Acropolis Museum is open from 12.00 to 18.00. Opening times of the Acropolis and other archaeological sites might also be affected, so check with your hotel.
Good Saturday in Athens
On Good Saturday, make sure to visit a church a half hour or so before midnight. This event symbolizes the resurrection of Christ. It is a solemn event, but it is now one of joy, so you will see people kissing and greeting each other after the bells start chiming at midnight. Note that there are fireworks, so if you have young kids they might get scared.
If you want to taste the mayiritsa soup after midnight, ask your hotel of a place where they make it, and definitely get an advance reservation.
With tourist activities in mind, the Acropolis Museum is open from 8.00 to 15.00. Opening times for the Acropolis and other sites might be affected so check before you visit.
Easter Sunday in Athens
On Easter Sunday, there isn’t much to do in terms of tourist activities, as all museums and archaeological sites are closed. Therefore, you can spend a day the Real Greek way – eat lamb and drink wine like there’s no tomorrow!
Easter Monday in Athens
Finally, on Easter Monday, things go back to normal. It’s a public holiday, so many commercial stores will be closed, but if you are staying in the tourist areas you probably won’t even notice. Archaeological sites and museums are open as usual.
On some years, the 1st of May is very close to Greek Easter (this is actually the case in 2021), so note that pretty much everything (apart from restaurants and some tourist shops) will be closed. This will be a good day to chill out in Athens, as many locals will be on a short getaway – or you can hit the coast!
Have you already experienced any unique Greek Easter traditions? Do you have a favourite place to go for Greek Easter? Let us know in the comments!
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