Updated: Apr 1
Greece is one of the few countries in the world where Easter is celebrated with great fervour and zeal. This significant event is an occasion for family reunions, festive meals, and religious ceremonies. If you are planning a trip to Greece during the Easter period, you are in for a treat.
Greek Orthodox Easter is celebrated on a different date than the Western Easter, as it follows the Julian calendar. The week leading up to Easter is known as Holy Week (known in Greek as the 'Big Week' or in Greek, 'Megáli Evdomáda') and is usually celebrated in late April or early May. The unique customs and traditions of Greek Easter are deeply rooted in the country's Christian heritage, reflect the unique cultural identity of the Greek people and being in Greece during this time makes it an extraordinary experience. Read on to discover more about some destinations in Greece where you can experience it to the fullest.
One of the most distinctive features of Greek Easter is the decoration of Epitaphios, a symbolic representation of Christ's tomb. This is a large cloth embroidered with religious motifs and is carried in a procession on Good Friday. Then, on Saturday people will gather at Church to hear the priest announce at Midnight that 'Christ has risen' (in Greek: 'Christos anesti'). Another unique custom is the cracking of red-dyed eggs on Easter Sunday. This is a symbol of Christ's resurrection and is believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the household.
Many people in Greece will fast in the lead up to Easter (known as 'nisteía') which is similar (but with some exceptions) to veganism. Thus, Easter Sunday, the day of Greek Easter is also a time for indulging in traditional foods (mainly meat dishes) that are prepared with great care and attention to detail. The most famous Easter dishes, all including lamb, is the soup magiritsa (usually eaten on Saturday night after church), kokoretsi and lamb, the last two grilled over a charcoal fire. As you can see very meat heavy and lamb focused - no wonder it was mentioned in the movie "My big fat Greek wedding".
During Easter it is also customary to bake tsoureki, a sweet bread that is flavoured with orange zest and mastic, and decorated with a red-dyed egg. There are many variations of tsoureki; either made with a praline filling, chestnut spread or covered in white chocolate, all equally delicious!
It is worth noting that these dishes are not as commonly found in Cyprus where I was raised and the two countries have some discrepancies regarding the Sunday dishes. A key delicacy made in Cyprus over Easter is the cheese pies with raisins called 'Flaunts', made by nearly every household and can be found in every bakery.
The unique customs and traditions of Greek Easter make it an extraordinary event, and there are many destinations in Greece where you can experience it to the fullest. Click on the destinations below to learn more.
And don't forget to head over and also listen to the dedicated Easter episode of the My Greek Island Podcast. You can listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any other Podcast platform of your choice, and also through the My Greek Island website here.
Perhaps the most popular destination to experience Easter in Greece is Kerkyra (or Corfu). Kerkyra offers a unique experience with the famous tradition of Stamnes which takes place on Holy Saturday at noon. Locals who have decorated their windows with red flowers and badges throw huge clay pots filled with red ribbons from their windows. The symbolism is to create an “earthquake” that is like the one that occurred following Christ’s resurrection from his tomb. On Good Friday, a procession takes place where the Epitaphios is carried through the streets, and the locals throw pots and pans out of their windows to ward off evil spirits. On Holy Saturday, a mock funeral procession is held, where a symbolic figure of Judas is burned.
Santorini is another popular destination to visit during Easter, where Pyrgos, one of the island's oldest villages, comes alive with colourful lanterns and candles, and the church bells ring to signify the resurrection of Christ. On Good Friday, the Epitaphios is carried through the streets, and the locals light candles, creating a beautiful sea of light. On Holy Saturday, a huge bonfire is lit, and the locals burn an effigy of Judas. On Easter Sunday, a traditional feast is held, with lamb roasting on a spit and plenty of wine flowing.
To learn more about the island of Santorini, click here to listen to the dedicated podcast episode.
Paros, a beautiful island in the Cyclades, offers a unique experience with the re-enactment of the Passion of Christ in the village of Marpissa. The re-enactment is held on Good Friday, and it involves a procession through the streets, with locals dressed in traditional costumes. The island also has a lively party scene, with Naoussa hosting a popular party on Easter Sunday.
Syros has a unique religious identity, with both the Catholic and Orthodox Easter celebrated together. The island is easily accessible from Athens via boat or domestic flight, and it is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. During Easter, the island comes alive with celebrations, with processions, church services, and traditional feasts taking place.
To learn more about the island of Syros, click here to listen to the dedicated podcast episode.
Hydra is a charming island that is located close to Athens, making it an easy destination to reach. The island is known for its beautiful architecture, crystal-clear waters, and relaxed atmosphere. One of the most unique Easter traditions on Hydra is the Epitaphios in the sea. On Good Friday, the Epitaphios is carried through the streets and then taken out to sea, where it is blessed and submerged.
Patmos is mostly known for its religious importance, as it is the location where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation. During Easter, Patmos becomes a hub of religious activity, with many visitors coming to experience the island's unique traditions. As is the tradition in most places in Greece, locals dress up in biblical costumes and participate in a procession that travels through the streets of Chora, the island's capital re-enacting the Passions of Christ. Another unique tradition is the lighting of the Holy Fire, which is done in the cave where Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation.
Tinos is an Island in the Aegean, which is home to the Church of Panagia Evangelistria, one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Greece. On Good Friday, the Epitaphios is carried through the streets of the island by local priests and residents. Another unique tradition on Tinos is the lighting of the Resurrection Candle, which takes place at midnight on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection Candle is lit from the Holy Fire, which is brought to Tinos from Jerusalem.
Finally, Meteora, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a stunning destination to experience Easter in Greece. The monasteries atop the towering rock formations offer a unique and awe-inspiring backdrop for the Easter festivities, and the devout celebrations here are a sight to behold. One of the most significant traditions on Meteora during Easter is the re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ. Locals dress up in biblical costumes and participate in a procession that travels through the streets of Kalambaka, the nearest town to Meteora.
One things is for sure, wherever you are in Easter in Greece, you are up for a treat and it will be an experience to be remembered. If you head to any other destination other than those mentioned, please get in touch. Its always great to hear from fellow Greek Islanders and how they experienced travelling through Greece,
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