Celebrating and Reflecting on Easter in Greece

Adrian couldn’t wait for the end of the week. The excitement of Easter always delighted him, and he relished all its festive celebrations. Painting hard-boiled eggs red on the Thursday before Easter has been one of his favourite memories of the holiday, and this year his friend Andrew would join him and his family. The best part? Breaking the eggs on Sunday! Perhaps this year Adrian will have the strongest egg of all…

This time of the year, children in Greece, like Adrian, are blessed to have two weeks off school to honour this important holiday. In fact, it’s the biggest Christian holiday of the year for the Greeks and is oozing with traditions – some of which start weeks before the holiday is even celebrated.

For instance, the devout Orthodox start their traditions early with forty days of lent – fasting specifically from red meats, meat by-products, and fish with backbones – which begins on Clean Monday, a day where you’ll notice an abundance of airborne kites. Additionally, at this time you may notice some households yielding a seven-legged woman shaped out of salty dough, whose legs are individually broken off in each of the preceding weeks before Easter.

Symbolism is key, and Greece’s unique Easter eggs are a notable example. Dyed typically on Holy Thursday, these hard-boiled eggs are dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ shed on the cross, while the hard shell represents the sealed tomb of Jesus which will be ‘cracked’ open on Easter Sunday.

The delightful aroma of sweet bread began to waft throughout the house as Adrian and Andrew finished cleaning the red dye off their hands. His mom was busy in the kitchen preparing for the weekend, and although she said the bread was to be saved for Sunday, Adrian couldn’t wait to have a taste!

The often-braided sweet bread, also known as tsoureki, is an important Easter staple that contains the distinctive flavourings of citrus and mahlab. Presented with a dyed-red egg baked onto the top, it’s the perfect way to break the fast that many had been on in preparation for Easter.

Interesting how one can go from hopeful preparation to bittersweet sadness in just a day’s time, Adrian thought. With his family by his side at church, he watched solemnly as the epitaph – a depiction of Christ’s lifeless body in its tomb – was approached and kissed by all congregants. Sadness filled the air on this Friday, and the sound of beautiful, yet mournful chants and hymns filled Adrian’s chest with emotion. 

After a period of waiting, locals meet once again for the liturgy on Saturday evening.

With Christ’s resurrection believed to have happened exactly as Saturday becomes Sunday, midnight, the whole village or city will gather, after a very late church service, to light candles representing the Light of the world coming forth from the tomb. Sorrow turns into joy. Fireworks often light up the sky at midnight, followed by a breaking of the fast with soup made from the organs and intestines of the lamb they will be roasting the next day.

After visiting the church and eating a late bowl of soup, Adrian grabbed his dyed-red egg in preparation for its cracking. He locked eyes with his father, who held up his own red egg, then brought it down upon his dad’s, cracking it open in the process. Smiles wide throughout the room, Adrian and his family, together with countless other families across Greece, called out, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!”

Whether we celebrate with commemorative traditions or with quiet times of reverent reflection and worship, through the preparations, times of sorrow and of celebration, may we never forget the sacrifice and resulting hope that God has gifted us! 

Happy Easter!

*Thanks to Mark Doebler, currently serving in Greece, for your input!