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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Interested in learning more Greek phrases? Take a look here for more useful Greek words when visiting Greece.
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.
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.
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 Greek Easter 2022?
Greek Orthodox Easter 2022 is on 24 April. If you are an early planner, here is a table with the dates for the next decade!
Note 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
If you liked this article about Easter in Greece, 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!
- Movies about Greece – Much more than the Big Fat Greek Wedding!
- Quotes about Greece – To inspire your next Greek holiday!
Hi, I’m Vanessa!
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!