1. Pre Easter Sunday observances
Easter is the most important celebration in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Lent and the sombreness of Holy Week are very important. The church services on Holy Thursday recall the Last Supper and Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and re-enactments of the Crucifixion take place. The streets of most Greek towns and cities are (usually) filled with people teeming to watch the processions of the flower covered Epitafio that houses the body of the crucified Christ.
The flower-decorated Epitaphios Procession will be missed out on this week. The Deposition from the Cross is followed by a procession of the Epitaphios as church bells toll mournfully. The service is one of the most vivid moments of Orthodox Easter. In pre-coronavirus times, parishioners would socialise with neighbours in a candlelit vigil of thousands of believers holding beeswax candles.
3. The Pascal Candle (lambada)
On Holy Saturday, the tone is becomes lighter, because Greeks are anticipating midnight, when Christ is resurrected. When the faithful go to church for the Resurrection Liturgy, they hold white candles to receive the Holy Light. The white candle is a symbol of purity and hope and is usually given to the children by their godparents. It can be kept throughout the year. It is lit by Holy Light at Easter and can be used in special liturgies such as baptisms and weddings.
The lighting of fireworks on Resurrection Night is another tradition that aims to shed light on the darkness, but in a more spectacular way. The fireworks go off after the priest declares “Christ is Risen!” The church bells usually add melody to the bangs of the fireworks.
After feeding the soul at church and following the deprivations of Lent, it is little wonder that food plays a big role in what follows. Magiritsa is the soup that will greet most Greeks when they get home after the Resurrection liturgy. It is a delicious soup made from lamb or goats’ offal – often taken from the animal that will be roasted on the spit when morning comes on Easter Sunday. Dill,lettuce and other herbs and greens are also part of the soup flavoured by the ever-dependent “avgolemono” (egg and lemon) sauce.
6. Roasting the lamb/young goat
The work to prepare the fire in the pit for the roasting of the lamb or young goat begins in the morning so that the actual roasting starts later in the morning. Everyone takes a turn in turning the lamb on the spit. The symbolism of the Lamb is not only central to Christianity but harks back to Abraham’s sacrifice in the Old Testament.
7. Cracking the red dyed eggs
The egg used in the magiritsa resurfaces again on the Easter table and its presence is redolent with Easter symbolism. They are boiled and dyed red on Holy Thursday in commemoration of the Last Supper and as a reminder of the blood Christ shed. The hard shell of the eggs echo Christ’s tomb and the cracking of the shell signifies the breaking of the seal on the tomb and the resurrection of Christ.
The Tsoureki is a sweetened, braided bread that is part of the Greek Easter tradition. As with the eggs, this too is prepared on Holy Thursday and and a dyed red egg is set at the centre of the bread. As a dough rising to become bread, the tsoureki is another symbol recalling Christ’s resurrection. According to which part of Greece it is made in, this bread goes by many names including: “kofinia,” “kalathakia,” “doksaria,” “avgoulas,” “koutsouna,” and “kouzounakia”.
9. Meat eaters and vegans
Not much of the meat goes to waste: the lamb or young goat on the spit will not only provide meats for the magiritsa but it isalso the source for other Easter dishes such as “kokoretzi” and “gardoumpes”. Vegans and vegetarians, who will have had no problem over Lent, will find more than enough to fill their stomachs in the form of salads, spinach and chees pies and breads that are also part of the Easter table.
10. Sweet tooth
The traditional Easter biscuit is the “koulouraki” made of butter, flour, sugar and, yes, eggs. And it goes very well with Greek coffee.