Do you want to know how the Greeks celebrate Easter? Christmas may be an important holiday to the Greek Orthodox, but it’s not celebrated with nearly as much verve as Pascha, or Easter, whether you’re on mainland Greece or one of the islands.
Chef Katerina, of our culinary vacation Greek Cooking Odyssey, took a break from cooking up her delicious creations on Poros Island to talk a bit about all the traditions that surround this very-important holiday in Greece. Because in Greece, Easter isn’t about one single day.
Rather, the celebrations and traditions begin 40 days in advance, similar to the Catholic Easter. They call this start date “clean Monday,” or the beginning of the fasting period, according to the Greek Orthodox church. “Traditionally we fast, and we are not supposed to eat meat of any kind, or dairy products, the exception being seafood, octopus, prawns, etc.,” Katerina says.
Big Week Celebrations in Greece
Once the end of Lent nears, the Megali Ebdomada, or Big Week, celebrations begin, and a lot of those traditions involve, no surprise, food! As Katerina points out, going to church frequently over the Easter holiday period is important, but to many, the food plays a significant role as well.
- Big Tuesday: Food preparations begin with making Koulourakia, twisted cookies.
- Big Wednesday: Food prep continues.
- Big Thursday: The cooks in the kitchen work on making Easter bread, including tsoureki. Eggs are also dyed red to symbolize the rebirth of life and nature and the blood of Christ.
- Good Friday: While the day includes decorating the Epitaph, participating in the circumambulation (street procession), and fasting, “Big Friday is the day that we should do nothing,” Katerina says.
- Big Saturday: Time to make a traditional soup, maghiristsa, made with tripe and herbs!
Greek Easter Sunday Celebrations
When the big day finally arrives – which is sometimes the same day as western Easter – the fasting comes to an end and it’s time to really celebrate. Many people prepare lamb, whether on a spit or in an oven, for the big feast. But before everyone gathers around the table, they head to church for the mass, as well as to see the fireworks. Then it’s time to eat. “Easter tables are set and people merrily rejoice,” Katerina says, “eat and drink with their family late at night.”
What are your family’s Easter traditions?
By Liz Hall