Greeks have a saying, “Den einai kathe mera Pascha!” Which translates to “Not everyday is Easter”. That’s because the BIGGEST holy-day for Greeks by far is Orthodox Easter or like we call it “Pascha”. Holy Week is like the Orthodox World Series for church loving Yiayiades and Greek moms and it is the most sacred time of the year for over 25 million Orthodox christians worldwide. Moreover, it’s usually after Catholic Easter except for every four years when it is on the same day as the Catholic Church.
Even if you’re not an avid Greek Orthodox church attendee, odds are you’re going to church for midnight “Anastasi” on Holy Saturday at Midnight. Many young Greeks will get dressed up like they’re going to a haute couture fashion show. Hundreds of Greeks will fill the church and streets in anticipation of the Holy light at midnight “Anastasi”.
Few will stay until the end of the very long Holy liturgy that ends past 2am. Then you have those very few that we call “Drive by Greeks”. They do a “drive by lighting” of their candles and don’t even get out of their cars. LOL!
One of our favourite quotes that describes Greek Orthodox Easter in just one paragraph is from the lovely Greek American actress/singer wife of Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson. In a beautiful article published in the Washington Post she stated:
Rita Wilson attends the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in LA with Tom. She wrote a beautiful article for the Washington Post years ago on ‘”Greek Easter”.
“We don’t do bunnies. We don’t do chocolate. We don’t do pastels. We do do lamb, sweet cookies, and deep red. The lamb is roasted and not chocolate, the sweet cookies are called Koulourakia and are twisted like a braid, and our Easter eggs are dyed one color only: blood red.”
– Rita Wilson
Baking Tsoureki Greek Easter Sweet Bread
Most Greeks fast for at least the Holy Week, if not for the entire 40 days leading up to Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday “Pascha”. Greeks begin preparations for Pascha by baking their Tsoureki bread anytime throughout Holy Week. This delicious sweet bread is braided and very yummy. See Greek Easter Tsoureki Sweet Bread Recipe. The three braids of the bread signify the Holy Trinity and are eaten on Greek Orthodox Easter.
Dying Red Easter Eggs
On Holy Thursday “Megali Pemti”, Greek mothers dye their eggs deep red to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ.
Walking Behind and Crawling Under the Epitaph on Good Friday
On Good Friday, there is a very sombre atmosphere and the Greek Orthodox church bells ring and flags fly half mast, and in many cities and villages the Epitaphio which represents the tomb of Jesus is carried in the streets. Greeks will kiss the icon on the epitaph and crawl under the epitafio.
Midnight Church Service & Candles
On Holy Saturday night, before midnight, Greek Orthodox christians flock to their church, which are packed inside and out spilling into the streets with people. At midnight the church goes completely dark and the bells ring out to proclaim “Anastasi” the resurrection of Christ. People outside set off loud fireworks! Greeks of all ages wait with anticipation and joy to light their lambatha easter candle that they have in hand. The priest lights a candle representing the Holy light and eternal flame of Christ and spreads the light to all parishioners. People carefully carry their candle home and make a black cross 3 times on the door frame with the flame to bless their family and home.
Red Egg “Tsougrisma” Cracking Game
Greek families gather around the table for a celebratory “Anastasi” feast! Magiritsa is traditionally eaten by most parents. Greeks play the breaking red egg game with each other, symbolizing the blood of the resurrected Christ. Everyone chooses one egg, carefully selecting the one that appears to be the most powerful. Then it’s time to crack the eggs! “Christos Anesti” (meaning “Christ has risen”) is said as one person cracks their chosen egg on top of another’s egg. “Alithos Anesti!” (meaning “Truly, he has risen!”) says the other. The one with the cracked egg is clearly the loser. The egg cracking continues until just one person remains. Th one holding the uncracked egg! The one who has the untracked egg is said to have good luck throughout the year. The egg cracking symbolizes the breaking of Christ’s tomb on the 3rd day according to the Holy scriptures.
Eating the Magiritsa after the Midnight Anastasi Church Liturgy
Many Greeks eat the customary magiritsa after Anastasi! This meal combines boiling green vegetables (lettuce, dill, and onion) with the offal of the lamb shortly before it is roasted. It is customary to eat magiritsa since it marks the completion of the 40-day fast that Greek Orthodox Christians observe just before Easter. Many Greeks will eat and drink and still wake at 6am to put the sacrificial lamb on the spit for the Pascha day feast.
Roasting the Sacrificial Lamb
Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday is the BIGGEST holy-day celebration of the year for all Greeks! Families gather before noon to eat lamb that has been roasting on a spit since 6am. The families enjoy a long lunch with lots of meats, kokoretsi (guts of the lamb wrapped with the intestine), potatoes, spanakopita, tiropita, pastitsio, dolmades, olives, bread, feta, kefalotiri, salads, wine, drinks, and more. Truth be told, not every Greek loves to eat lamb. Some women and men eat other meats as they dislike the strong taste of lamb, and some are even vegetarian. “What do you mean he don’t eat no meat? Okay. It’s okay. I cook lamb.” The famous quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Pot Smashing on Corfu Island in Greece
If you’re spending Easter in Greece, you have to go to Corfu island. A long red piece of cloth is hung from the balconies or window sills of all houses after the Holy Saturday morning Liturgy, which is called ‘Proti Anastasi’ (First Resurrection). As people go down kantounia (Old Town streets), the local Philharmonic Bands play cheerful Easter tunes and marches, while residents drop ‘botides’ (clay jugs filled with water and decorated with red ribbons) from their balconies. The streets are packed with thousands of people, including visitors who stand back and watch the jugs fall and break on the ground from a safe distance. Make sure you bring one of the shattered pieces with you back for good luck. The breaking clay jugs signifies the resurrection of Christ and the breaking of his tomb.