Easter in Greece is synonymous not only to the numerous religious celebrations and festivities, but also to many other rituals and customs, traditional dishes and recipes, sweet treats, colourful flowers and aromas, crafts, music, dance and more.
As the greatest feast of Orthodoxy, Easter is celebrated in a unique way in every corner of Greece, with century-old local traditions being revived every year all across the country.
Even though this time again Easter will be different from what we were used to in the past, because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there are still some Easter “habits” and traditions that families can safely enjoy at home and keep the Easter spirit alive.
Red Eggs and Tsougrisma
The most popular Easter tradition in Greece is the boiling and painting of eggs with red colour.
In fact, the egg has been an ancient symbol of life and death in many different cultures and religions. Numerous ancient scripts that have been found, showed that first the Greeks and then the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, Indians, Aztecs, Maya, and even the Vikings, believed that life on Earth began from a huge egg, and associated eggs with the rebirth of nature.
In Orthodoxy, eggs are painted red because they symbolise the blood and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
After the Anastasi or on Easter Sunday, families gather at their dinner table and do the “tsougrisma” of the eggs, a fun game for children and adults. Everyone picks an egg and attempts to crack other people’s eggs by hitting one egg on top of another. Whoever gets their egg cracked loses the game, while the person with no cracks on their egg, wins and is said to receive good luck all year round.
The lambada surely brings back special childhood memories, associated with our beloved godparents. The lambada is a candle – can be of any colour but is usually white – and is decorated with crafts, accessories and all sort of designs, for both kids and adults. According to the tradition, godparents buy the lambada for their nieces and nephews as a special Easter gift, and it is lightened up with the Holy Light during the Epitaph parade and the day of Anastasi.
This custom dates back to the early Christian period and had two main symbolisms. Firstly, it represented the new light of Christ that would enlighten the soul of those that were being baptised on the night of the Resurrection or on Easter Sunday. Secondly, the candle was the symbol of the light that Lord Jesus Christ brought into the world, by overcoming death and consequently the darkness with His Resurrection.
Over the centuries, as the connection of the lit candle with baptism ceased to exist, and Christians were baptised all throughout the year and not only during Easter, the Orthodox Church kept only the second part of the symbolism of the lambada that brings light and hope into our world today.
The tsoureki is a type of soft and puffy sweet bread or brioche that was originally made only during Easter time. Over the years, however, it became so popular in Greece that most bakeries make it in different shapes and sizes all year round.
The Easter tsoureki is particularly special though because it is braided with three different pieces of dough, which represent the Holy Trinity, while a red baked egg is placed in the middle.
The day of Good Friday is one of the most important, but also saddest days of all Christianity. During this day, everywhere in Greece, people can hear church bells ringing slowly and melancholically with the most despondent tone.
Usually, the ladies of each town or village gather at the church early in the morning to decorate the Epitaph, a dome holding the sacred image of Jesus Christ, covered in flowers. The Epitaph depicts the burial of the Son of God, and is paraded all throughout towns and cities, with a mass of people following behind with lightened up lambada candles, while singing hymns and chants.
This custom can also be seen in many other Christian countries such as Spain and Italy.
Chocolate Eggs and Bunnies
Although the chocolate eggs and bunnies are not a Greek tradition, they have become an integral part of the Greek Easter, with shops and grocery stores filled with them during Springtime.
John Cadbury, the founder of the famous British Cadbury chocolate, created the first chocolate egg in 1875, and since then chocolate eggs and bunnies have conquered Europe’s Easter celebrations.
The very first eggs were made from solid chocolate wrapped in plain paper, but later, with the discovery of another method of processing chocolate, European confectioners managed to shape their eggs into eggshells and put candies or little surprises inside them.
According to EuroNews, more than 90 million chocolate Easter eggs are produced every year.
The day of Anastasi is the biggest day of the Orthodox Easter, with churches all across the country filled with people and their lambada candles lit with the Holy Light.
On this day, the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at midnight, after the priest in every church proclaims, “Christ is Resurrected”, while the church bells are ringing loudly and happily, and fireworks are illuminating the night sky. People greet each other by saying “Christos Anesti”, as others answer with “Alithos Anesti” (Christ is Resurrected, He truly Resurrected).
The magiritsa is a type of soup made of lamb offal – in some parts of Greece it includes vegetables or rice – and it is served right after the Anastasi, as people return home from their local church.
Even though it is a “controversial” dish, with many loving it and others disliking it, it is always linked to the Easter holidays.
Traditionally, magiritsa is eaten to break the fast of the Greek Great Lent, which starts 40 days before Easter and symbolises the return to life after the Resurrection of Jesus.
Nothing screams Greek Easter more than skewered lamb.
Throughout the nation, lambs are roasted on a spit or in the oven, as families gather together, eat, drink, sing and dance to traditional Greek music.
The choice of the lamb, a pure and innocent animal, is supposed to represent Christ, the Holy Lamb of God, while people’s celebrations on Easter Sunday symbolise the happiness that follows the Resurrection, love, faith and family.
Photos by TheToc except where noted otherwise.