Easter back home usually means a number of things for me, which primarily involve eating copious amounts of chocolate (sometimes after foregoing the stuff for Lent), in-between scoffing hot cross buns and drinking my way through the long weekend. I’m only being honest…Greek Easter is entirely different however, as the most important religious holiday (yup, even over Christmas). And alongside the religious celebrations is a whole host of Easter food that rivals a Cadburys Creme Egg and 6 pack of hot cross buns any day.
I love coming over to Greece at Easter- the weather is warm but not too hot and it means we can get involved in celebrating a traditional Greek Easter. Here’s what’s involved if you fancy doing the same…(Hint: it involves a lot of celebrating and a lot of amazing food!)
The build up- Lent
The build up to Easter begins with Lent (40 days before Easter- which is often on a different date to the Christian Easter as Greek Easter follows the lunar calendar). During Lent, Orthodox Greeks are meant to give up any animal products that come from an animal with blood. While not all Greeks are that strict (it’s a fairly tricky ask with so much feta and souvlaki- grilled meat kebab around), often people will give up meat or some variation of the rule for the 40 days.
Thursday (before Good Friday)
Today is the day to bake the bread (and biscuits) and dye the eggs!
Greek Easter bread (tsoureki- Τσουρέκι) is one of my favourite things. It’s a bit like a fragrant brioche, and it often braided with a red egg in the middle and flaked almonds on top.
A mini tsoureki (minus the red egg!)
The cookies are no less delicious. They call them koulourakia- Κουλουράκια. They’re fairly dense and have a subtle vanilla flavour but you can’t beat them with a coffee.
The eggs are boiled eggs and dyed red to represent the blood of christ. They come back into play on the Sunday…
Friday is a day filled with the sound of the church bells ringing for the funeral of Christ. At 9pm (Jesus is said to have died in the 9th hour), everyone gathers by the local church and the candle procession begins. This candle funeral procession while somber, is often emotive and beautiful, with hundreds gathering and walking with their candles through the streets.
Easter Midnight Candle Procession
The real fun begins at midnight on Saturday (but there is plenty of prep to do before this)! Before midnight, everyone gathers at the church and just before 12pm all the lights are turned off, before the Papa declares ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ Has Risen). This is a moment of true celebration for the Greeks and there are plenty of hugs, kisses and firecrackers (which never fail to scare me!)
Celebrations at midnight
Again candles are lit. These can often be decorated with the shops selling lots of pretty versions in the lead up to Easter.
These candles are lit by the priests candle- the fire for which comes from the eternal burning flame in Jerusalem, which is transported to Greece and then passed between candles across Greece, starting from a church in Plaka (Athens). These candles are carried home where a cross is drawn over the entrance to protect it from evil.
Then the eating begins…!
Yep, that’s right. Just after midnight the Greeks begin their meal. The first meal is traditional Easter soup- magiritsa. The soup is lamb innards (yep, we’re talking heart, lung- the whole job) with herbs, egg lemon sauce and sometimes rice. I’m going to be totally honest- while I’m the first to embrace the Greek food and lots of people love it, it’s something I really struggle to eat. Luckily this is often only the first course so there is plenty to enjoy after. After dinner it’s PARTY time- and the Greeks go big, trust me….
It’s also at this dinner the red eggs come back into play. The game is to hit the top of your egg with the other persons bottom of the egg and to see which one breaks. The person who has the egg that doesn’t break has good luck for the year ahead!
One of the things I love about Greek Easter is the food and Easter Sunday is no exception with a huge feast of… yep you guessed it…more roast lamb on the spit and all the goodies to go with it, such as Greek salads, roasted potatoes (with lemon and oregano) and tzatsiki. Today is seen as the celebration of the resurrection and a joyful day.
Also be sure to try the small chocolate eggs (which are filled with the yummiest praline) as well as the dark chocolate coated almonds and orange peel. Delicious.
In Corfu, this day is also celebrated with the throwing of urns off buildings!
Easter is an amazing time to visit Greece and experience the warmth of the Greek traditions. Don’t forget to wish everyone ‘Kalo Paska’ (Καλό Πάσχα)- Happy Easter!