If you find yourself in Greece during Easter expect something a little different. There’s very little chocolate in the shops and hardly any bunnies at all.
Easter here is a serious religious event with a week of events all centred around the church. A large majority of the population are practising Greek Orthodox and it’s unusual to find a Greek who doesn’t go to church at Easter. Every evening, from the Sunday before Easter, bells were ringing out out and special services took place.
Local television stations were broadcasting the events from major churches around the country, it was all that seemed to be on when I went into the village shop.
During the week women around the village were busy spring cleaning and dusting, hanging out carpets and hosing down patios. Everything would be sparkling by Easter Sunday. Thursday was all about cooking, baking the Easter butter cookies (koulourakia), making Easter bread (tsoureki) and dying hard boiled eggs red.
Why red eggs and not chocolate? The egg is an ancient symbol of fertility and rebirth and has been adopted by Christianity to represent the empty tomb of Christ. The colour represents the blood shed at the crucifixion. Chocolate eggs as we know them have their origins in early nineteenth century France and Germany, they can be found occasionally in Greek supermarkets now.
In the days leading up to Easter the supermarkets had stocks of pre-boiled and dyed red eggs. There was red dye available to buy or you could try more natural ways. Effrosyni over on her blog explains the simple traditional way with natural ingredients, I’ll try this next year. Many shops and business closed from late Thursday through to Monday, it’s a time to be with family and your church, in many ways Easter is more important than Christmas here.
This is a very sombre day in the Easter calendar, the village was a little quieter with no loud music and not much laughter heard. I continued my spring cleaning and sewing, then joined my parents for a fish supper in Haraki, returning to Pylona in time for the evening church service procession around the village.
Most of the population were at the church along with many locals from other villages. I saw why Easter is known as ‘Greek fashion week’, with the younger women in their finest little black dresses and sparkly high heeled shoes. Some of the smaller children had lanterns with them for the walk. Overall the whole the atmosphere was reverential, even teenage boys were talking in much quieter tones.
Once the service was done it was time for the procession to start. The Epitaph, a wooden bier beautifully decorated with flowers by the women in the village, was brought out of the church and held head high at the entrance to the churchyard. Everyone then crossed themselves and walked under it. Taking care not to hit my head I joined our neighbours and then followed it a short way.
In the UK Easter for many is about chocolate eggs, bunnies and having a long holiday weekend. For those who don’t know the religious significance, The Epitaph is a symbol of the tomb of Jesus as Good Friday commemorates the day Jesus was buried.
The main road was closed off as the procession headed along it and down to the next entrance of the village. It would then process through the village, around the cemetery and back up to the church.
Although there were similar processions around the Greek world the times vary depending on local traditions. In Athens it takes place during the day around 2pm on Mount Hymettus starting at the Byzantine Monastery of Kaisariani. In Corfu it happens on Saturday morning it’s believed the tradition there dates back to Venetian times. After the procession they all gather in the town centre to see huge pots thrown off balconies in celebration.
At midnight is the highlight of the Orthodox celebration. By then everything will have been made and prepared ready for the resurrection of Christ.
My day was spent at the fundraiser at Atlantis taverna on the beach in Lardos. Lots of ladies and a few men selling a combination of crafts and second hand goods to raise money for the Greek Cat Welfare Society on the island. They work hard all year to neuter cats on the island and help local communities with feeding programmes. I was selling a few homemade jams and chutneys, some bits and pieces from my spring clear out and a couple of kaftans I finally got round to making from Sari fabric.
After a delicious dinner in the village taverna with friends we headed up to the village church for the evening celebrations. The light arrived and the bells sounded to announce the ceremony.
The main event is receiving holy fire. A flame is brought from Jerusalem to Athens and then transported to every church across Greece. Friends where in Rhodes airport when it arrived once. It was an amazing sight with lots of young priests dressed in white. The light was placed on a podium and all the village priests came in to light their own lanterns and return to their churches with it. The road outside was complete chaos as the priests cars were all abandoned as close as possible to the door.
The light arrived and the bells sounded to announce the ceremony. There was a real atmosphere of celebration, everyone rushing to light their candles from the flame. The priest then headed outside to speak while the huge bonfire with the effigy of Judas was lit and fireworks went off. The village boys seemed to have a lot more bangers and fireworks this year.
Ladies in the church handed out biscuits and eggs to break the lenten fast. The souvlaki grill was soon up and going and everyone was greeting each other with ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ has risen) and replying ‘Alithos Anesti’ (Truly he has).
The test then was to keep my candle alight and get it home to draw a cross above our door. It was a still night so the candle made it and will bring us luck for the year ahead.
After lent Easter Sunday is all about celebrating over food with family. Traditionally here the main meal is whole lamp grilled on a spit or bbq outside. Despite the late night at church everyone was up early getting the food ready and tables out. Around the village gardens and patios were cleaned and prepared. As it was a sunny day umbrellas and gazebos were put up.
On my midday walk with the dog the sounds of Greek music and people laughing followed us around. There was smoke billowing out from bbq’s, children out playing in the streets and real sense of happiness. A day of dancing and fun.
I joined family and friends at Atlantis taverna on the beach in Lardos where we celebrated together with wonderful meze and lots and lots of lamb. There was Greek music and a little Greek dancing. A cool wind picked up and we were reminded it is only April so I headed home to feed and walk the animals and finish this post.
This is traditionally a day of rest. After a week of celebrations and services, it’s a time to eat the left overs and relax before everyone goes back to work and school on Tuesday. Many have been working here over Easter to get things ready for the summer and more will open for season straight after the holiday.
I’ll be heading out on jungle adventure with friends on Easter Monday more about coming on the blog soon.
This year Orthodox Greece Easter coincided with Western Christianity but it doesn’t always, check the dates before booking if you want to experience Easter in Greece.
Easter is a wonderful time of year to be here. The weather has been mainly warm and sunny. Around the island there’s spring flowers and the place seems more alive than ever. With birds on the reservoirs and everything coming alive around us I’ve already unpacked the sunscreen and got out the summer clothes.