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Greek Easter: Things To Do And Foods To Try During Easter In Greece
One of the most heartfelt and special occasions within the Greek Orthodox Calendar is definitely Easter and the weeks leading to its celebration. Even more important than Christmas or New Year’s Day, Easter is a unique moment all over Greece, full of rituals, traditions, and stunning food.
If you happen to visit the popular Balkan country during Easter, keep reading this article to discover all the things you didn’t know and that you shouldn’t miss during Easter in Greece.
Kathara Deftera, also known as Clean Monday (and as Ash Monday in the Catholic world), marks the first day of Lent and the beginning of a countdown period until the arrival of the Great Week of Easter.
Clean Monday is a national and bank holiday during which most shops remain closed, as well as schools and universities.
One of the traditions of this special day involves all the family when everyone gathers with the family’s kids to fly colorful kites and have a wonderful day together. Kites are often flown at the beach or in parks and other green areas across the country.
During the day, the locals eat feast on plenty of seafood, such as squid and octopus, but they also eat dishes made with beans and lentils and dolmades and a sweet known as halva, made with tahini paste and honey.
This is because Clean Monday marks the beginning of fasting, which lasts for the forty days leading to the great Easter celebrations. One more tradition of Clean Monday is to eat a flat, delicious kind of bread known as lagana covered with sesame seeds and very fragrant when it’s fresh from the oven.
In the period of Lent, many are the people in Greece who avoid eating any product that comes from animals with blood in their veins. In a nutshell, that means no meat, nor fish, but also no milk, yogurt, cheese, or eggs. Seafood such as shellfish are also allowed.
Although not every Greek respects the religious fasting of Lent until Easter, many people eat “clean” during this day, while many others take advantage of the dietary restrictions to cut on things such as chocolate or wine as well.
All over the country, Lent is also felt in restaurants and tavernas where they don’t necessarily stop serving meat but usually do offer a good variety of vegetarian dishes, lots of wild greens, beans, and grilled or stewed seafood.
The Big Week Of Easter
Locally known as Megali Evdomada (or Big Week), this week starts on Palm Sunday and ends with huge celebrations on Easter Sunday. Many people attend church services every evening during the week, while most people visit the church with friends and family on Easter Friday and Saturday evening. Sundays, however, are mostly devoted to celebrations at home and with the family.
In every Greek household, families get ready and prepare their homes. At the same time, the women of the house have a very busy week preparing every dish that will, later on, be shared on the Easter table.
Kids and moms get together to dye eggs in red, representing the color of Jesus’ blood.
On Thursday, mothers and grandmas get together to bake tsoureki, the bread of Easter. Tsoureki is a soft, semi-sweet brioche bread, and it’s a favorite of kids and adults alike. In some areas of the country, it’s common to find tsoureki with raisins or nuts. This soft bread usually has a tempting lemony flavor, given by citrus zest and sometimes also cinnamon.
This Holy Week or Big Week is the way in which Greeks revive and remember the last days of Jesus as a mortal man. The Church of Greece commemorates every moment of the life of Jesus, leading to the resurrection on each day of the week.
When Good Friday arrives, the deep, mourning toll of the bells in every church in the country print a typical sad atmosphere to every corner of Greece. According to the Orthodox Bible, the bells of every church and chapel remind us about the funeral of Christ, who died in the ninth hour.
For this reason, at 9 in the evening, every Greek takes part in a symbolic funeral procession known as the epitaph. Every person participates, carrying candles and in silence, a symbol of the flame of Jesus. It’s a very solemn experience that culminates in church with another religious service.
Lent, and therefore fasting, ends on Saturday. During the day, people and homes get ready for the midnight meal, which according to the traditions, should not be very heavy or flavorful, but a soft meal to make the body used again to meat and dairy products.
Greece’s most traditional dish for this evening is a soup known as magiritsa, made with lamb offal and romaine lettuce, commonly garnished with fresh herbs. A lemon and egg sauce locally known as avgolemono.
When the soup is ready, instead of sitting at the table to eat the magiritsa, everyone gathers in their local church right before midnight, holding their own candle (known as lamba). Huge crowds populate every church and chapel, and many times stand even outside because lack of space is quite common. Nobody misses the service on Saturday.
The most important moment takes place just before midnight when every light in the church is turned off. This ritual is a symbol of Jesus’ descent into the kingdom of death.
The dark and sad moment lasts until the priest announces to the crows “Christos Anesti” (Jesus Christ has risen!). People cheer, greeting and hugging, kissing and exclaiming the joy of the resurrection. In many places, it’s the moment for big fireworks and the true joy of Easter.
People carry their candles to be lit by the priest’s candle and one after the other and from candle to candle, every one of them is lit and flickering, the eternal burning flame spreads all over. People then walk back home, trying to keep the flame alive.
Once home, that candle is used to bless their home; locals bless the entrance of their houses by drawing a cross with the flame above the house entrance door to protect the household against everything evil. That black cross usually stands the test of time and lasts for a whole year.
It’s also common in many homes to try and keep this flame burning during the whole rest of the year (at least until the following Easter) in a specially built container known as kandili.
The real celebration of Easter starts now. The red-dye eggs give place to a traditional game known as tsougrisma. A game that kids and adults alike love to play. Every person breaks each others’ egg by hitting them one against the other.
The egg owner that lasts longer, the strongest egg of all, will be the one bound to enjoy good luck all year. There’s a traditional saying that goes with this ritual, and it’s ”You close your mouth with an egg when Lent starts and open it with an egg when it finishes.”
Once at home, it’s time for the first meal that follows, the forty days of Lent. It’s time to sit at the table with the family and have a dish of soup cooked earlier in the day.
Especially younger ones, who don’t always enjoy magiritsa, gather with friends and go out to eat and party until the rise of the following day.
Easter Sunday is a joyful day when families and friends gather to share a big Easter meal, which usually includes roasted lamb and other types of meat, usually grilled or roasted.
Salads, dips, and appetizers fill every table that people usually share for long hours, well into the late afternoon. Food, wine, music, and good company are the key traits of the Sunday celebrations, while everyone wishes each other Kalo Pascha! Or Happy Easter!