Greek Easter Traditions | How Greeks Celebrate Orthodox Easter (Pascha, Πάσχα)

Easter or Pascha is one of the most well-known religious celebrations and cultural holidays in the Christian world. It commemorates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and it symbolizes the victory of life against death, light against darkness, good against evil. Easter can refer to a period of time, including a 40-day period of fasting, the Holy Week, and Easter Sunday. But the term usually refers solely to Easter Sunday.

Do Greeks Celebrate Easter? | Greek Orthodox Easter

The most prevalent religion in Greece is Orthodox Christianity. That makes Easter a very important religious celebration. Many people choose to spend this time in the countryside with their family members, partaking in most, if not all, religious and cultural traditions. Here is how Greeks celebrate Orthodox Easter (Πάσχα).

How is the Date of Greek Orthodox Easter Determined? | Greek Easter 2021

The Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday for 2021 is the 2nd of May (02.05.2021). That is almost a month after the Catholic Easter Sunday. Easter is a moveable feast, and it shifts dates on a yearly base.

Traditionally, the Christian Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the Paschal Full Moon. But, since a different calendar is followed nowadays (the Gregorian Calendar), some extra days are added in the calculation; usually, 13 additional days. In general, Easter Sunday in Greece is celebrated between the 4th of April and the 8th of May.

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How is Orthodox Easter Celebrated in Greece? | Greek Easter Traditions

The most important Greek Easter traditions include the “Sarakosti” (Σαρακοστή) – the 40-day fasting period-, the “Holy Week” – which is called “Great Week” in Greek (Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα)-, the “Anastasi” -the Resurrection Night-, and the feast of Easter Sunday (Κυριακή του Πάσχα).

The Sarakosti: the Great Lent or Great Fast period, which starts on Clean Monday (7th Monday before Easter Sunday) and lasts till the Anastasi (Resurrection Night). The people who partake in Sarakosti start by eliminating meat from their diets and eventually give up other animal products, alcohol, and oil. Participating in the liturgies is an important part of this 40-day period. Moreover, Orthodox Christians try to show strength against all temptations, such as lust, while battling with their negative emotions and dark side of their personalities. Just like Jesus Christ did for 40 days in the Judaean Desert.

The Holy Week: the last week of the Sarakosti is abundant of liturgies and religious traditions. Fasting intensifies and it is generally recommended to avoid playing music and laughing out loud. The week revolves around the Passion of Jesus and to his Crucifixion. The Great Thursday is dedicated to the Last Supper, the Great Friday to His Crucifixion, and the Great Saturday to His burial. On the Night of the Great Friday, the tradition of “Epitaphios” occurs. An embroidered icon of Jesus Christ before His burial is decorated with flowers and the chanters are chanting mournful hymns. What follows is the procession of the Epitaphios. The attendants follow the Epitaphios around the village/town/neighborhood, holding candles.

The Anastasi: on the night of Great Saturday, Christian Orthodox Greeks attend the Liturgy of the Resurrection of Christ (Vigilia Paschalis). Just before midnight, the priest calls the attendants to collect the light (Δεύτε Λάβετε Φως). Christian Orthodox believers then greet each other and embrace. The priest lights the candles of the attendants with the “Hagio Phos” (Holy Fire), which is brought to Greece and distributed to all churches from Jesus Christs’ tomb in Jerusalem. The fire symbolizes hope, and the exchange of fire symbolizes the Christian union. A non-religious but rather cultural tradition is to use fireworks to light up the sky. Also, many Greeks return home after the liturgy and eat the traditional “Magiritsa” (Easter Lamb Soup).

Easter Sunday: the Sunday after the Resurrection Night is the Easter Sunday. Greeks prefer spending this day outdoors. Barbequing with friends and family is quite typical on Easter Sunday (Kyriaki tou Pascha). Lamb, kokoretsi, and boiled eggs are always on the table. The eggshells are painted red. Activities such as egg hunting and meeting the “Easter Bunny” are not included in the Greek Easter traditions.   

Local Easter Traditions: every region in Greece has its own customs and traditions. In Corfu, there is the tradition of “Botides” that occurs on Great Saturday. Locals throw ceramic pitchers full of water from their balconies. In Chios island, there is the “rouketopolemos” that occurs on Resurrection Night in Vrontados town. The churches Agios Marcos and Erithiani fore rockets at each other. The church that hits the bell tower of the other church first, wins. In Kalamata, there is the controversial “Saitopolemos”. In Hydra island, the “Epitaphios” procession takes place in the sea. In Leonidio, they launch sky lanterns. In many parts of Greece, “Judas” is thrown in a public bonfire.

Greek Orthodox Easter Greetings | Easter Wishes in Greek

  • Καλό Πάσχα (Kalo Pascha) – can be translated as “Nice/Good Easter”; general greeting.
  • Καλή Ανάσταση (Kali Anastasi) – can be translated as “Nice/Good Resurrection”; used before the Resurrection.
  • Χριστός Ανέστη (Christos Anesti) – can be translated as “Christ was Resurrected”; used right after the Resurrection has been announced by the priest.
  • Αληθώς Ανέστη/ Αληθώς ο Κύριος (Alithos Anesti/ Alithos o Kyrios) – can be translated as “He has Truly Risen/ He has Truly (Risen) the Lord); the response to “Christos Anesti”.
  • Χρόνια Πολλά (Chronia Polla) – can be translated as “(May You Live) Many Years”; general greeting.
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Marialena Perpiraki is a journalist and writer from Athens, Greece. In 2020, she founded Helinika as a cross-media platform.