The Greek Easter is a universe of its own. It is a celebration that lasts a whole week, the Holy Week, and is tied to the orthodox symbolism of the crucifixion of Christ, his burial, and the subsequent resurrection that spreads joy and hope to all Orthodox Greeks. It is a week that in Greece, even now, the postmodern age of technology is revolving around the Orthodox Church and the customs and traditions that have to do with Easter. Easter is also connected to fasting, as people are supposed to cleanse themselves by abstaining from certain foods, alcohol, etc. in order to demonstrate their faith and prepare for the Easter feast. Fasting usually lasts a period of 40 days, but nowadays most people fast just the holy week or only a couple of days before Easter Sunday. Moreover, there is the tradition of giving Easter candles to children. Godfathers and godmothers give to their godchildren a beautiful easter candle to be lit the night of Easter, usually colorful and decorated with trinkets, although traditionally it is supposed to be white, along with a chocolate egg and a present (clothes, shoes, etc.)
Even though every Greek area (North Greece, Central Greece, the South, the islands) has its own special customs, there is some common ground followed by almost every Greek family. It usually starts on Holy Thursday with preparations for Easter Sunday. They require a lot of cooking, so the kitchen is the place where pretty much everything is happening. First comes the baking of tsoureki, a sweet bread that is shaped in three braids intertwining that symbolize the holy trinity. The baking of tsoureki is considered a demanding task, as it has to inflate considerably and have a rather gooey texture to be successful. Nowadays many people buy tsoureki from a pastry shop or a bakery, but old school housewives, especially older people, consider it shameful not to bake their own tsoureki. Then comes the dying of eggs. Fresh eggs are boiled and dyed red. Why red? Because it is the color of Christ's blood, spilled for the love of humans. Of course, there are many people who prefer to dye their eggs in different colors and even add patterns with stickers, etc., but the tradition wants eggs originally red. Again it is a procedure that requires some form of expertise, as eggs can break during boiling or the dying part is not always successful.
On Good Friday, church bells toll mournfully all day long, since it is the day of Christ's burial. At night around 21:00, there is the epitafios' procession. In other words, the priest and the congregation accompany Christ's body around the block where the church is. Christ's tomb is represented by a portable canopy covered in flowers. The congregation accompanies the canopy in silence, holding a lit candle, while the priest is chanting hymns. It is perhaps the most solemn and graceful procedure of the Holy Week. After the procession, people usually go and eat seafood in taverns and restaurants, a tradition that resembles the funeral dinner (in Greece after a funeral there is a traditional funeral dinner with fish soup).
Holy Saturday is the day Greeks cook the Easter soup or magiritsa. It is a soup made from chopped lamb liver and offal, rice, fresh dill, and egg and lemon sauce. Some people love it and some hate it, there is no in-between. Again the preparation is challenging and time-consuming, as the liver and the offal have to be cleaned, then boiled, then chopped, and finally cooked along with the other ingredients. Of course, nowadays there are vegan versions, with mushrooms, etc., but again tradition calls for lamb. On Saturday night, before midnight starts the Resurrection Mass, the most joyful event of the Holy Week. At midnight, the priest chants 'Christos Anesti', which means that Christ has resurrected, and death has been beaten. That is when bells start ringing joyfully and it is the time of firecrackers. Some people cannot stand them because the noise is so loud, but most people love them as they spread the resurrection message. People return home with their Easter candles lit, exchanging wishes. The holy fire has to be carried at home for good luck and protection. The resurrection dinner is evolving around magiritsa and egg cracking. People choose a red egg and crack it on top of another person's egg until there is only one left with the chosen egg intact. This is the winner and the person who is supposed to be lucky throughout the year. The cracking of eggs continues on Easter Sunday and several days later. It is a fun game accompanied by jokes and a lot of teasing around the Easter table.
On Easter Sunday, the last festive day along with Easter Monday, there is the custom of roasting a whole lamb on a spit. This lamb represents Christ, the lamb of God who out of pure love, sacrificed himself to save people. In the country, this custom is observed with reverence, and usually, it is men who prepare the spit and the charcoal fire. It is a procedure that can take several hours, as the lamb is best when it is slowly cooked on the spit. In the city, and when the easter table does not have many participants, or there is no room and facilities for a barbecue (a yard or a large veranda) people usually roast the lamb in the oven. This is the festive lunch and the conclusion of the Easter festivities. Usually, people listen to Greek folk music, dance, and drink a lot of alcohol, mostly wine. The Easter meal is very important and a family bonding experience.
Seasons change, and amidst a pandemic, things are not exactly the same. However, certain traditions and customs serve as connecting tissue for people who share the same language, and the same faith. And Easter passes on a very optimistic message: That of love, of hope, of resurrection, and of rebirth. The fact that it happens in Spring, a season linked to fertility, enhances the whole experience. This Easter, the second easter of social distancing, may we all very soon celebrate the end of the pandemic. And on this joyful occasion of the Greek Easter, we would like to wish all of you, health, lots of love, and happiness. May traveling resume very soon.