Greece plays host to religious celebrations with deeply rooted customs and centuries-old traditions all year round. One of the greatest if not the greatest celebrations is Easter.
The faithful all over the country follow the Holy Week ritual devoutly, giving themselves body and soul into the culmination of the Passion of Christ and finally rejoicing in His Resurrection.
However, different regions in Greece also have their own unique customs and traditions during the Easter period.
Some of the most famous destinations to experience and to celebrate Easter in Greece are considered to be Corfu, Skiathos, Patmos, Chios, Leonidio and Monemvasia and other places. There you can have the one-of-a-kind opportunity to delve into an overwhelming spiritual atmosphere and participate into sacred rituals, ancient-old traditions and joyful celebrations.
Spending Easter on Skiathos, the island of “the saint of the Greek literature” famous novelist Alexandros Papadiamantis, is definitely a spiritual experience, as the locals observe the monastery ritual of Mount Athos, and live the Holly Week in devoutness and deep contemplation. The sound of the funeral bells ringing, and the scents of the nature in blossom blend harmoniously in sweet melancholy.
Fascinating religious celebrations held in the city of Corfu at Easter, throughout the Holly Week are an experience not to be missed out.
On Good Wednesday at 8.30 p.m. Corfiots fill up the Municipal Theatre to hear the Municipal Chorus singing ecclesiastical hymns of the Holly Week.
On Good Thursday in the Duomo, the Catholic Cathedral, 12 candles are lit and put out one at a time after the reading of each of the 12 Gospels.
On Good Friday young girls decorate the Epitaphs, whose circumambulation begins early in the afternoon accompanied by choruses and bands. The last Epitaph and most impressive one, the Epitaph of Corfu Cathedral, makes its appearance at 10.00 p.m. Listen to the music performed by the Philharmonics of Corfu, which gives an ecstatic dimension in this mournful night…
On Easter Saturday at 11.00 a.m., the first Resurrection is announced. Be prepared to experience a truly unique celebration: “Christós Anésti” is proclaimed against a background of loudly pealing bells and the joyful sounds of the bands as they parade through the streets. People hurl clay pots from windows and balconies which crash
noisily on the streets below. At night, attend the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection in Duomo, or the Orthodox Resurrection Service at “Páno Platía” (Upper Square). Visitors will find themselves surrounded by thousands of lit candles: on balconies, on window sills or held by others attending the ceremony. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at 12.00 sharp with drum beats and fireworks.
During the Holly Week on the Aegean island of Patmos, the Island where the Apocalypse had been written, visitors are immersed in a deeply spiritual atmosphere. The presence of the Monastery of St. John brings about an uninterrupted observance and practice of the preserved Early Christian traditions like “The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet”, the Re-enactment of the Deposition from the Cross in the Monastery of St. John. Do not forget the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday
and the highlight of Easter ceremonies, the “Liturgy of Love”, held on Easter Sunday at 3 in the afternoon at the Monastery of St. John.
Apart from being the island of Aromas in the Northeastern Aegean, Chios is well known for the magnificent Easter festivities too. On the night of the Holy Saturday the villagers of Vrontádοs are ready to set the night on fire! A rocket war breaks out here, which dates back to the age of the Turkish occupation (15th-19th centuries) and
turns this village into a virtual battlefield.
During Easter time in Leonidio in the Peloponnese devoutness and excitement go hand in hand, thanks to the spectacular custom of the balloons that is more than one century old. Although its origin is unknown, it is believed that the custom is a revival of a similar one that the seamen of the area had seen practiced in some Asian country.
Following the Good Friday procession of the Epitaph around the cobbled lanes of the medieval fortress town of Monemvasia in Laconia is an unforgettable experience; the faithful join in the procession taking place in the church of Elkomenos Christ holding white candles; Easter hymns echoing around the place create a mystical
atmosphere steeped in devoutness and contemplation… On Easter Sunday evening, in the courtyard of Elkomenos Christ Church, you can observe the ancient-old
ritual of “Judas Burning” reviving: an effigy of Judas made by wood and straw- and filled with explosives- is set on fire!
The tradition of the burning of Judas is also witnessed in other places in Greece, such as the villages of Thrace. The children make the effigy of Judas and they go to every house of the village, asking for branches in order to burn him the day after the Epitaph. On Holy Friday the procession of the Epitaph stops outside a chapel, where the fire is ready to burn Judas. The moment the priest reads the Gospel they light the fire and burn his effigy. Later they get some of the ashes and throw in the tombs.
At Ierissos in Halkidiki locals and visitors sing and dance all Easter songs and end with the “Kagkelefto” dance, which is the representation of the massacre of 400 locals by the Ottomans during the war of independence in 1821. The dance passes under an arch of laurel where two young men with raised swords stand.
Whereas in Livadia, a regional capital in central Greece, on Eastern Sunday the entire city is covered by a cloud of smoke throughout the day, and revives the custom of the “lakkon”. The inhabitants stay awake to make the “pit” and even before dawn, they have prepared the spot and the pile of branches. The oldest of the family or the clan makes a cross and lits the fire with the candle of the Holy Light. The celebrations last until late afternoon, accompanied by local music and of course plenty of wine.