Happy Easter everyone! No no no, I’m not crazy, I know we celebrated Easter about a month ago but that was Catholic Easter! Now it’s time to celebrate Orthodox Easter and I can name several reasons why one should celebrate Easter for the second time.Visiting Greece in Spring is a marvelous idea, first of all because Greek Spring is practically summer so you’ll have the opportunity for some early summer vacations and if you combine that with the Greek Easter season be ready for an experience of a lifetime! To put it in pop culture terms, for the Orthodox community Easter is like the Super Bowl with the Football (Soccer) World Cup -packed into one tremendous celebration. In fact, Easter is the most important holiday in the Greek Orthodox Church. Compared to Western Easter, Orthodox Easter is in no way commercialized by chocolate, Easter bunnies or pastel colors. Rather, it is a festivity deeply rooted in tradition filled with church, emotions, lamb and red dyed eggs.
Here is the second part of the list with things that make Greek Orthodox Easter a unique experience. *see the first part of the list here.
Places to be
Open a Greek map, close your eyes and point with your finger. Chances are you’re going to hit the jack pot because the smaller the town – village – island the better it’s going to be! If what you are looking for is the full package here are some of the places I recommend.
Easter in Corfu is legendary and popular among the Greeks. The island is tourist friendly, easily accessible with international and national flights, facilities and accommodation for all tastes and budgets and with monumental celebrations during the Holy Week. If you’re planning on visiting Corfu be sure to make early arrangements because it’s a very popular destination.
* Don’t forget to buy a red ceramic pot and celebrate the victory of life over death by breaking it on Holy Saturday noon in the central square of the town.
Perhaps the Island of Chios is just the right place you’ve been looking for. A place where the tourist feels more like a guest and has the opportunity to discover many values and traditions the mass tourism has driven away from other places. Birthplace of Homer and home of Mastic (the scent of Aegean), Chios offers one of the most spectacular Easter celebrations -the midnight rocket war on Holy Saturday.
The ritual, customs, the ceremony of the Holy Washbowl and the representation of the Last Supper are several reasons to spend the Easter on the island of Revelation in a climate of special devoutness that exudes the whole formal and ritual of Holy Week. Patmos is a majestic island and visiting it might be one of the best choices of your life. It is also called the Island of the Apocalypse, the island where Saint John (the disciple of Jesus) was exiled to become a hermit and then to write in 95 AD the sacred Book of Revelation. If you are in a more spiritual mood and prefer to enjoy some quality moments with your loved ones, Patmos is your place to go.
Monemvasia is a breathtaking medieval tower town located on the south-eastern coast of the Peloponnese. Upon entering the castle, your journey through time begins. Peer into the history of the fortress –the so-called “Gibraltar of the East” and be amazed by the magnificent sea views while some of the most ancient rituals take place.
5. Palios Panteleimon – Olympus
This list could go on and on, but telling you about all Greek Easter destinations is not the point of this post. Sharing with you some of my experiences I saved for last the place I’m spending Easter this year, the medieval village of Palios Panteleimon on the legendary Olympus mt. , home of the ancient gods, with the majestic view on the Aegean sea.
You won’t find this place in typical tourist guides but spending Easter there might be the best choice. You won’t feel like a tourist and you’ll experience a different side of Greece. Olympus is a unique place combining walnut and chestnut tree forests with easy access to the sandy beaches of the Aegean (only 5km away). Home of legends, ancient sites, mountainous paths and Byzantine Monasteries, Palios Panteleimon has a lot to offer.
Be prepared and buy a Lampadha – Easter Candle
Easter wouldn’t be the same without the specially decorated candle named lampadha! All children wait for the moment their godmother brings the lampadha at home along with the rest of the gifts (usually shoes and clothes). In return, the godmother receives a basket full with sweet bread, home made cookies and red eggs. We use our lampadha during the resurrection service at Saturday midnight where the faithful receive the holy light (fire of life) which travels from Jerusalem to every Greek church and chapel every year at the same day. Legend has it that the light comes directly from the tomb of Jesus during the morning service on Holy Saturday.
You can can buy your lampadha or make it yourself. Personally I prefer handmade lampadhas and since I got married (according to tradition) my godmother stopped bringing me one.
Easter Eggs and Egg Fight
Eggs are dyed traditionally on Holly Thursday afternoon, right after the crucifixion service with the red colour symbolizing the blood of Christ. On my previous post “2 unique techniques to dye your eggs” you will find directions on how to dye your eggs with onion peals and threads and make these beautiful leafy patterns.
Egg tapping, or also known as egg fight, or egg knocking, is a traditional Easter game called “tsougrisma” in Greek. On the first hours of Easter Sunday and right after “Christ has risen” we crack red eggs during dinner. The goal is to crack the opponent’s egg. The player who successfully cracks the eggs of the other players is declared the winner and, it is said, will have good luck during the year.
*Tip : The smaller and more pointy the egg the better your chances to be the winner 😉
If you have a Greek-Orthodox friend, I’d urge you to tag along to at least one Holy Saturday midnight service in your lifetime. If you happen to be in Greece, prepare for a memorable experience. People go to the church half an hour before midnight wearing new clothes and shoes and carrying their lampadha to receive the Holy light. When the clock strikes twelve the priest brings the message of resurrection, the bells start ringing festively, the sky is brightened by fireworks and the message is spread from mouth to mouth – Christ is risen! Directly following the midnight liturgy, most churches offer an Agape Meal (love feast). The agape meal is always one of the best nights of the year! For me it includes breaking my fast immediately after church and celebrating the resurrection with my siblings, cousins and friends. Delirium tends to set in at the agape meal, which is normal considering it’s usually 2 o’clock in the morning following a busy Holy Week and 49 days of the Great Lent. Easter creates this tangible feeling of frenzy in the air filled with love, gratitude and laughter.
Eat your Soup
And while lamp, eggs and lots of traditional dairy products are consumed during the agape meal, a special soup called “magiritsa” is the star of the night.
Traditionally Magiritsa soup is the appropriate dish to break the 49 days Lent period and make a passage from fasting to eating dairy and meat again. Rich in texture and flavors, magiritsa is one of my favorite soups because of it’s lemony – herb freshness. I know that a lot of you wouldn’t eat lamp liver in a soup but as Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods said –“if you are going to eat intestines and liver only once in your life, let a Greek cook them for you”. If you are willing to try it for yourself, here you will find an excellent magiritsa recipe for the job.
Christ may be risen by Holy Saturday Midnight but Easter is not over yet. In fact the best part is yet to come with Easter Sunday being the most important day! What are you waiting for? There’s still time to catch a last minute flight to Greece 😉