Greek Easter Traditions – Greek Orthodox Easter Food and Customs

Visiting Greece during Easter is a fantastic experience for anyone interested in Greek culture and traditions. Here’s some of the Greek Easter traditions you can expect.

Easter in Greece Traditions

Greek Easter is one of the best times of the year to be in Greece. The weather is pleasant, there are flowers everywhere, and tourist numbers are still low. What’s more, visitors can observe our unique Greek Orthodox Easter traditions.

Orthodox image of Christ

Do you want to get a little closer to Greek culture? Then check out the Greek Orthodox Calendar and start planning your next trip to coincide with Easter in Greece!

Greek Orthodox Calendar

There are many differences between Catholic, Protestant and Greek Orthodox religion. One of these differences is that Greek Orthodox Easter and Catholic / Protestant Easter are rarely on the same day.

Greek Easter calendar Orthodox vs Catholic

This happens because the Greek 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.

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, check the Greek Orthodox Calendar first.

And now, a little info on our Easter traditions!

Greece Easter Culture and Traditions – Lent and Fasting

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 more or less.

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.

Greek gemista - Stuffed tomatoes and peppers

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 a little strange, remember that this is Greece. Our culture and traditions are quite unique!

Greek Easter Traditions – Religious Ceremonies

Apart from fasting, there are numerous other Orthodox Easter traditions in Greece. Many of them are related to church attendance and customs.

Greek Orthodox Candles

Special church services begin on the Friday after Clean Monday. Unique hymns and liturgies are recited, related to Jesus and Orthodoxy. These special masses continue throughout Lent.

On the week before Easter, called Megali Evdomada (Grand Week) in Greek, special Orthodox church traditions take place.

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.

The Epitafios at Easter in Greece

On Good Friday, processions of decorated Epitafios 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 Epitafio Greek Easter procession is a very solemn event and definitely worth attending if you are interested in Greek culture and traditions. In 2021, the processions will not take place, but ceremonies will happen close to the churches.

Good Friday Epitafios Greek Easter procession

On Good Saturday, there are several masses and liturgies during the day. The biggest event is at midnight, when the Holy Flame arrives from Jerusalem, signifying the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Everyone in the congregation lights their candle, and the flame quickly spreads before everyone returns home. It is customary to make a cross out of candle smoke on the ceiling, just above the entrance door.

Greek Easter candles

This is the end of the fasting period, and it’s now time for celebrations and Greek Easter food!

Greek Easter Food Customs – Lamb and Goat on the Spit

Meat lovers visiting Greece during Easter time, 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 Orthodox Easter Sunday everywhere around Greece. There are designated areas where people cook several lambs and goats, for many hours.

Greek Easter cooking lamb on the spit

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 – Other meat dishes

Apart from the lamb on the spit, there are more meat recipes that you might like to try. And no, I don’t mean souvlaki and gyros 🙂

Before going to the church on Saturday night, we prepare a special soup called mayiritsa. The main ingredients for this soup are lamb or goat intestines, kidneys and other insides. We also add rice and lots of lemon, to take some of the meatiness away.

Greek Easter meat soup mayiritsa

Mayiritsa is a heavy, filling soup which we eat after midnight on Saturday. Some people love it, and others hate it!

Two other popular Greek Easter dishes are kokoretsi and gardoumpes. These are, again, made with the various insides of the lambs and goats.

Kokoretsi Greek Easter meat dish

If you are a vegan or vegetarian don’t worry. A proper Easter table will also have salads, bread, spinach pie and cheese pie – and, of course, the red Easter eggs.

Red Eggs Greek Easter

Unlike in other cultures, Greek Easter eggs are not chocolate eggs. They are real chicken eggs, but not the usual ones – they are first boiled and painted red.

Red painted eggs are common place in Easter in Greece

Traditionally, women used to paint the eggs on Good Thursday, using a dye produced from onion peel. This would give the eggs a deep red colour, symbolizing the blood of Jesus.

Nowadays, we normally buy special red paint to paint the eggs. Moreover, ready-made red eggs are available at supermarkets and street markets.

Red eggs for Greek Easter

These days it’s very common to paint eggs in different colours. Some people decorate them using different methods such as tree leaf patterns or plain stickers. My friend NenaM created the fancy ones above!

And now for the fun part! Greek Easter customs call for an interesting cultural experience, which has to do with cracking the eggs into each other. On Easter Sunday, every person gets one or more eggs, and plays the cracking game with other people.

Cracking red Eggs for Greek Easter

One person holds their egg in their hand, and the other person tries to break the egg saying the phrase “Christos Anesti” – Jesus has risen. The response is “Alithos Anesti” – He has truly risen. Then you get to eat the eggs.

Among all Easter customs in Greece this is my favourite one. I still don’t get to beat my dad very often though.

Easter chocolate eggs

It is possible to find chocolate eggs during Greek Orthodox Easter. However, there is no custom to hide them around the garden, like in some other countries.

Greek Easter Desserts – Koulourakia and Tsoureki

If you have a sweet tooth, you would be looking forward to Greek Easter desserts. There are generally two types of sweets prepared for Easter in Greece – Greek Easter koulourakia, and Greek Easter tsoureki.

Greek Easter koulourakia are best described as 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.

Koulourakia Greek Easter cookies

The Greek tsoureki is a type of sweet bread, with a very 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!!!

Greek Easter tradition - Making a tsoureki

It takes a long time to make a tsoureki, but it’s a fun procedure, and children are normally happy to participate. We often decorate each tsoureki with a red egg.

Greek Easter dessert tsoureki

Ask the locals where to get the best tsoureki and they will definitely 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.

Now that you know everything about Greek Easter dishes, here’s my article on the best foods of Greece.

How do you 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

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.

A colourful church in Mykonos Chora

Check out destinations like Patmos, Corfu, Tinos, Andros, Chios, Syros, Hydra, Kalamata and Meteora. They all have very unique Greek Easter traditions, and you are likely to remember them for years!

Moreover, spring is a fantastic time to visit Greece. It might still be too cold to swim for some people, but nature is lovely. You can always combine a visit to Athens with some parts of the mainland.

For example, you could visit the ancient site of Delphi, and celebrate Greek Easter in nearby Arachova village. You will have a blast!

When is Greek Easter 2021?

Greek Orthodox Easter 2021 is on May the 2nd. In general, the weather is expected to be nice in most areas of Greece. Here in Athens, there will be a mini heatwave – I’m actually planning to go for a swim!

Last meal of Christ

All stores will be open from 13.00 to 19.00 on Good Friday, and 9.00 to 18.00 on Good Saturday (possibly 19.00 for supermarkets). The 1st of May is typically a strike day, but as it falls on Good Saturday, stores will remain open. Instead, all stores will be closed on 2, 3 and 4 May 2021.

In addition, on Tuesday 4th May, there will be public transportation strikes:

  • The Athens Metro (blue and red lines) and buses will operate from 9.00 to 21.00
  • Green metro line, suburban railway, trains and Athens airport metro will be on 24-hour strike
  • At the time of writing, there is no info for tram and trolleys here in Athens – will update when there is some news.

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. Here are some suggestions.

Greek Easter traditions food

Please note that, due to the movement restrictions in 2021, church celebrations are limited. In addition, cafes / tavernas will not reopen until Easter Monday, 3 May, and museums are still closed. Archaeological sites, zoos and parks are open. 

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 I recommend the one that goes all around Plaka. It is a unique, solemn event, symbolizing the death of Jesus. (Again, the full processions will not happen in 2021, but there will still be limited celebrations at churches).

A procession through the streets of a small town during Easter in Greece

Because of the Lent fasting, there are many vegan foods to be tasted on Good Friday. Check for any special dishes on any take-away menu.

Opening times of the Acropolis and other archaeological sites might also be affected, so check in advance. For 2021, they will be open from 12.00 to 17.00.

Good Saturday in Athens

On Good Saturday, you can visit a church to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is a solemn event, but it is now one of joy. The Anastasi normally takes place a half hour or so before midnight, and it will be at 21.00 in 2021.

You will normally 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.

Opening times for the Acropolis and other sites are also affected so check before you visit. In 2021, sites will be open from 8.30 to 15.30.

Easter Sunday in Athens

On Easter Sunday, there isn’t much to do. All stores, museums and archaeological sites 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, or hit the coast.

Easter Monday in Athens

Easter Monday is a public holiday. Supermarkets and retail stores are closed, but tourist stores are likely to remain open. Archaeological sites are open as usual, from 8.00 to 20.00. Anyone staying in the area of Plaka and around, will probably not even notice that it’s a holiday.

And this completes my guide on Greek Easter traditions! I’d love to know if you knew about any of them, or if you have actually experienced Easter in Greece. Let me know in the comments!

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! 

4 thoughts on “Greek Easter Traditions – Greek Orthodox Easter Food 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

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