Orthodox Easter around Greece
Rhodes, Corfu, , Crete, Kozani & Imathia, Halkidiki
Easter is the most important and, without a doubt, the most revered celebration in Orthodox Christianity. The symbolism involved in all the spiritual and physical preparations of the Sarakosti (fasting period, or Lent) leading up to Easter Sunday is deeply moving for the faithful. During Holy Week, they try to forge a connection with the events leading up to the day of the Resurrection. In experiencing this intense religious event, Orthodox Christians everywhere, and Greeks especially, do not limit themselves to the celebrations that take place in the church or at home.
They organize all types of events, trying above all to highlight their compassionate connection with this divine drama, and their jubilation at the Resurrection. Throughout the entire Holy Week, there are a plethora of events held all over Greece, from the islands to the mainland. Good Friday everywhere features the reverential evening Procession of the Epitaphios, in which a religious icon, typically consisting of a large, embroidered and often richly adorned cloth bearing a likeness of the dead body of Christ is carried through the streets, but there’s imagination and variety in the dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of other traditions that take place throughout this holiday period, starting with Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, and continuing on beyond Easter Sunday. (source GREEECE-IS)
There are some great sources if you want to learn and understand customs and traditions of Greek Easter, such as GreekReporter, kidsloveGreece, alphabetagreek, greecetravel, wikipedia to name just a few.
Here we collected for you some small descriptions of what happens in some beautiful corners of Geere during Easter time. Enjoy!
Easter in Corfu is an experience you must have. Spring suits the island and, together with the Easter customs, that are unique in the whole of Greece, makes celebrating Easter there truly wonderful. In Corfu, customs from its Venetian past and Orthodox tradition combine to create a solemn and at the same time festive atmosphere. The island’s 18 philharmonic bands, the castle’s cannons, and the locals who keep traditions, all contribute to the festivities. On Good Friday the procession of the Epitaphs takes place, with the philharmonic bands playing works by Albinoni and Chopin’s marche funèbre, while on Holy Saturday, the service at the Agia Paraskevi church in Spianada square, is accompanied by fireworks that turn night into day.
Τhe most impressive tradition is that of “botides”, the clay jugs full of water that are thrown onto the street from windows and balconies, on the morning of Holy Saturday, after the service of the First Resurrection and the procession of Agios Spiridonas’ relic to the sound of cannons. This tradition is said to originate from a passage from a psalm “thou shalt dash them into pieces like a potter’s vessel”. Stroll around the town’s kantounia (narrow streets), grab a table at one of the scenic cafés on one of the narrow streets among the five-story buildings, walk on Liston and Spianada squares, and enjoy every moment of spring and Easter on the island.
At Ierissos in Halkidiki, in Central Macedonia in Northern Greece, they connect the joy of the Resurrection with an event that has left its indelible mark on this place: the massacre of 400 people by the Ottomans in 1821. They honor their memory on Holy Tuesday with a dance called the “kagelefto” – the line of dancers starts off with just the elderly locals, but soon everyone joins a line of celebrants that stretches hundreds and hundreds of meters. In nearby Arnea, on the same day, an enormous set of scales, or “kantari,” is set up in the main square. Everyone who is suspected of breaking the rules of the Lenten fasting period is weighed, and the results are compared to the previous year’s numbers. The comments overheard throughout are simply hilarious. Further south in Halkidiki, in the village of Sikia, horse races are held on the Tuesday of Holy Week.
The medieval style of Rhodes suits the mystic atmosphere of Easter. On Good Friday, the most solemn Epitaph procession is that of Agios Fanourios that crosses the alleys of the medieval town and is probably one of the most mystical processions you’ve ever experienced. The procession of the Epitaph of Panagia Katholiki in Kremasti is also very special. The tradition of “vournon” in Agios Isidoros in the Attaviron municipality that starts on Holy Saturday and ends on Easter Monday is also very interesting.
According to this tradition, the single men of the village need to do some things like bring large tree trunks to light the “kalafounos” fire on Holy Saturday, and to hang the effigy of Judas in the village square. On the same day, they appoint the members of the “court” which will judge the single men on Easter Monday. On Easter, the men who are to get married soon, and are participating for the last time, are the ones to set Judas on fire. The next day, the court judges the participants, and those who haven’t followed the rules need to pay a fine, or else they are sentenced with the vourna, that is, they are pushed into a water trough. If it’s your first time visiting the island, we recommend walking across the whole medieval town of Rhodes, walking on every alley from the palace of the Grand Master of the Knights and around the moats, it’s simply magic.
On Crete, the largest island in Greece, there are numerous events and historical traditions. On the evening of Good Friday in Irakleio, the Epitaphios processions from the churches of Aghios Minas, Aghios Titos and Aghios Dimitrios converge for a special ritual in the square. The “Panagia Dirge” is sung by the young men and women of the city and the priests chant as patient anticipation marks the faces of the participants, who are waiting for the religious celebrations to end before heading to one of the nearby mezedopoleia to indulge in the customary Holy Friday dinner. Another local tradition is the “fournara,” the burning of Judas on the evening of Holy Saturday. In the Voukolies area of Hania in western Crete, a livestock fair is the main event on Good Friday. In the past, this event also served as the occasion for arranging marriages – different customs for different times.
Macedonia, Northen Greece
One of the most interesting traditions kick-starting Greek Easter takes place in northern Greece, in the Serres, Imathia and Kozani regions, parts of Central Macedonia in Northern Greece, and begins on Lazarus Saturday. The kaladismata connects the raising of Lazarus with the resurrection of Christ a week later. Girls, dressed in the area’s traditional costumes and holding effigies of Lazarus, go from house to house singing carols and accepting gifts, which they put in their baskets. They are given unpainted eggs, which they will dye red on Holy Thursday, as well as traditional cookies made with flour, sugar and herbs in the shape of a figure wearing a shroud, representing Lazarus. These girls, who call themselves “Lazarines,” end their walk through town with a dance in the square, usually directly outside the church. The celebration continues the next day, on Palm Sunday, with dancing and singing after the church service in front of crowds of locals and visitors. Everything ends after the Vespers service, which denotes the beginning of Holy Week.