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Easter in Greece

Categories: Greece, Tradition, Έθιμα, Ελλάδα, Πάσχα, Πολιτισμός
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Easter in Greece

For Greeks, Easter is the biggest religious holiday of the year. Although many of the celebrations have roots to pre-Christian times – the Elysian mysteries in ancient Greece were also a celebration of rebirth after death when in winter everything dies and in spring they’re born again – today in Greece, Easter celebrations have a direct connection with the Orthodox faith.

By “Pisach” (the word means crossing pass) the Egyptians celebrated the passage of the Sun from the equator, the vernal equinox and the coming of spring. The Jews established this celebration to commemorate their liberation from the Egyptians and the crossing of the Red Sea. In addition they wanted to celebrate the end of the winter and the beginning of the spring.

In Christian feast was given the name “Easter” and by decision of the First Ecumenical Council in 325 AD set to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal equinox. At Easter, people celebrate the victory of Christ against death, the victory of God’s love to the humans despite their weakness and the arrival of spring, the awakening of nature after winter hibernation.

The word Easter, “Lampri” refers to the two weeks starting from the resurrection of Lazarus until the Low Sunday (Saint Thomas Sunday), the Holy Week and the week after Easter.

From the Byzantine years Christians were making preparations long before the Easter holidays. They overlaid their house’s floors with herbs, laurel, myrtle, rosemary, lemon; they bought new clothes, which called them “lampriatika”.

On Easter day everyone exchanged gifts and wished “Christos Anesti “that means Christ Has Risen, while at night the streets and the houses were illuminated. At the time of Ottoman domination Easter had a very special significance for the Greeks because they made a comparison of Jesus’ last week of life with their obedience to Ottomans along with Christ Resurrection came alive their hopes for the resurrection of the Nation.

The big week, or as it is known in Greek ‘Megali Evdomada,’ is the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Despite it being an ordinary work week, shops have special hours, there are churchEaster in Greece services every evening, and many people clean and prepare their homes in preparation for the big feast of Easter Sunday.

Holy Week is essentially a revival of Jesus´ last days when the Orthodox Church relives the last week of the life of Jesus. On Thursday Greek Easter bread called tsoureki is baked and the traditional red Easter eggs are dyed. On Good Friday you´ll hear the church bells ring all day for the funeral of Christ. Many people participate in the quiet procession while carrying candles and the experience overall is quite solemn.

On Good Saturday in the morning we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, it is called “Proti Anastasi” (first Resurrection of Crist) and the touch of the Holy Light from the Holy Grave in Jerusalem. It is the last day of Lent and it is filled with preparations for the midnight meal, including a traditional soup called magiritsa. Just before midnight on Saturday everyone gathers at church with their Easter candles (or ‘lambades’ in Greek).

Just before midnight all the lights are switched off, as a symbol of Jesus’ descending to the kingdom of death, and a moment later the priest announces ‘Christos Anesti,’ or Christ Has Risen. People start cheering, greeting and kissing each other and many fireworks go off.

Everyone carries candles with them to be lit by the priest’s candle which represents the ‘holy flame.’ The tradition is that representatives from the Greek Orthodox Church have transported to Greece a candle lit by the eternal burning flame at the Church of the holy Grave in Jerusalem, and the flame is spread from candle to candle all over Greece.

Each person carefully carries their lit candle home in order to bless their home by drawing a cross with the flame above the entrance for protection from all evil.

The ‘tsougrisma’ game begins where people break each other’s´ red eggs by hitting them against each other. The one with the strongest egg is said to have good luck for the whole year!

The first meal after Lent is usually the traditional Easter soup called magiritsa, eaten after church on Saturday night.

On Easter Sunday family and friends gather for a big Easter meal, which typically includes roasted lamb, loads of different salads and mezedakia. On Easter Sunday, there is a scent of spring and delicious food across the entire country!


Easter in Greece Easter in Greece
Easter in Greece

Carnival in reality means abstaining from meat –a mental and physical preparation of the human for Easter and Resurrection. In Latin the word carnival, derives from carne, which means “meat”, and the verb vale, which means “I pass.”

The carnival period is considered a period in which man escapes from his daily life and externalizes his passions with the help of disguise.

Formerly carnival was everywhere in Greece with group masquerades, dances, feasts, satire and various special customs in every place. It was a chance for endless party, revelry with wine and a thousand moqueries. The largest centers of carnival revelry were, like today Patras with the famous Carnival, which has its roots in the early 19th century. Another place is Plaka in the center of Athens and Moschato, a south suburb of Athens. In Thebes there is famous custom, the “Vlach wedding”. The “Vlach Wedding” is a remnant of the ancient orgiastic cult of the god Dionysus, the son of Semele in the country of the legends, Thebes. “Vlach Wedding,” is revived each year, with all participants joining the festivities with satirical songs and lots of dancing. Other places known for the festivities during Carnival are Kozani with the beautiful famous lamps and the outdoor celebrations around fires in various neighborhoods and Rethymno with its unique carnival, where the participants are taking part in a fantastic treasure hunt in the Renaissance Old Town alleys!

This celebration is associated with the last permitted by the orthodox tradition period to eat meat and to have fun before starting the Lent. During this period and for seven whole weeks weddings or celebrations or festivals cannot be made. So Apokries is a pleasant parenthesis between the twelve days (from Christmas’ Eve until Epiphany) and Lent. This period lasts three weeks and it is called Triodio. Clean Monday puts an end to the preceding Carnival celebrations, inviting all Orthodox Christians to leave behind the sinful attitudes associated with Carnival festivities and non-fasting foods, which were largely consumed during the three weeks of the Carnival.

As a result, the feast, which is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus, is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting foods. After Clean Monday it is forbidden to the Christians to eat meat, eggs, milk but the consumption of shellfish and mollusks though, is permitted, thus creating the tradition of eating elaborate dishes based on seafood, like cuttlefish, octopus and different shellfish, like shrimp and mussels. A traditional dip made of the salted and cured roe from carp or cod, mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs, called taramosalata, is also part of the products consumed on Clean Monday. Taramosalata is ideal for spreading on the lagana, a special kind of unleavened flatbread, baked only on that day.

Traditionally, as Clean Monday is considered to mark the beginning of the spring season, kite flying is also part of the tradition. The kite has its roots in ancient Greece and symbolizes the human need to rise mentally and spiritually and get closer to God.

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