This week we are taking a look at the most important religious holiday of the Orthodox Church in Greece accompanied with traditions and customs that date back hundreds of years. While there are many unique local customs, there are of course some that are observed by all Greeks.
During the Holy Week, the churches’ chandeliers and icon screens are adorned in black and purple ribbons to create an atmosphere of mourning for the coming crucifixion and burial of Jesus Christ.
Maundy / Holy Thursday
At home the Greek kitchens are fragrant with the smell of ‘tsoureki’ (traditional sweet bread) baking along with ‘lamprokouloura’ (Easter cookies). Eggs are immersed in red dye – the red colour symbolize Christ’s blood and the rebirth of life.
In the evening all churches include a symbolic representation of the crucifixion and the reading of the twelve gospels. After the service women gather to decorate the Epitaph with fresh spring flowers and the mourning time begins.
Church bells ring all day and food is very simple as this is the most important fast day of the Holy Week. Inside churches Epitaphios (a wooden canopied bier representing the tomb of Christ) is decorated with flowers.
At the end of the evening funeral service a procession takes place led by the Epitaphios, the priests and acolytes. People watch and follow the procession through the community with people holding candles and psalms being chanted.
In the morning, preparations begin for the traditional festive meal that is served after the Resurrection Midnight Mass. Mageiritsa soup, made with chopped offal and herbs is a traditional dish prepared in most Greek houses.
Before midnight, people gather in church holding white candles, which they light with the “Holy Light” offered by the priest. At midnight the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with music, fireworks, church bells and chanting. Following this everyone returns home for a festive meal. At the table it is traditional to crack the dyed red eggs with the person next to them, saying Christos Anesti. The person with the last intact egg is the winner
In the morning in many parts of the country lamb or kid is cooked over charcoal or roasted in the oven, Easter tables are prepared and family and friends celebrate. The atmosphere is joyous and they dance to folk music, drink Greek wines, tsipouro -preparations for the meal turn into festive celebrations even before the eating begins.
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