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Easter and Good Friday in Greece

Greece plays a host to religious festivals with deeply rooted customs and centuries-old traditions all year round. One of the greatest celebrations of Christianity is Easter. Good Friday 2017 would fall on Friday, April 14.

Even in today’s modern society, centuries-old traditions are still being kept alive and respected by younger generations in Greece. It is one time of the year when faithful Christians all over Greece follow the Holy Week ritual devoutly with all their relatives and loved ones. In the Orthodox Church the feast of Easter is officially called Pascha, the word that means the Passover. It is the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven.

Preparations for Easter start on “Clean Monday”, seven weeks before Easter Sunday when people start to fast for lent. During these forty days, the Greek diet consists of seafood, pickles and meals without oil. Meat, fish, eggs and dairy products are also excluded from the diet. People gather in church every evening throughout Holy Week, especially on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and on Holy Saturday, the night of the Resurrection.

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday is a day of baking and dyeing of dozens of boiled eggs bright red to symbolize the blood of Christ and the renewal of life. Young children delight in joining their mothers and grandmothers in the preparation of making the “Koulourakia”, the special Easter biscuits. There is always the lingering aroma of newly baked “Tsoureki”, the sweet bread that is actually eaten all year round. Housewives traditionally prepare the Easter brioche (“Tsoureki”) and dye eggs with special red dyes, a custom that symbolizes the rebirth of life and nature.

Holy Friday

On Holy Friday, church bells toll all over the country and are a poignant reminder of Christ’s crucifixion. Flags fly at half-mast and a great sadness is felt in communities. During this period of mourning, afternoon church services are held and after a re-enactment of the crucifixion, the figure of Christ is removed from the cross and placed in a shrine decorated by women and children with carnations and roses.

In the evening, the shrine representing Christ’s tomb is carried through the neighborhood in a somber funeral procession and the silent congregation follow behind showing their grief and their mourning for Christ. When the shrine has returned to the church, members of the congregation can take a flower away with them.

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday is all hustle and bustle as Greek families shop and makes their last minute preparations for Easter Sunday. The forty days of fasting will come to an end at midnight when the Greek soup, Mayiritsa, made with lamb offal is served after the church service and the resurrection of Christ. During the day, homes become filled with decorated candles, candies and brightly wrapped gifts, while the excitement of younger members of the family gradually begins to take hold.

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday morning, as the 40-day period of fasting finally comes to an end and surprisingly, on Easter Sunday, people are up as early as the break of dawn to prepare the lamb or goat ready to be roasted on a spit. The lamb is cooked along with the “Kokeretsi”, a favorite Greek dish of wrapped seasoned lamb offal. There is a smell of barbecued meat all across the country, while families and their friends prepare to enjoy a very large feast. Loud music and singing complete the high-spirited celebrations of a very traditional Greek Easter.

In other regions, the meat for Easter table - lamb or kid - is roasted in the oven. The Easter tables are set and people merrily rejoice, eat and drink with their family until late night. Atmosphere here is full of joy and excitement.

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