7 Greek Easter traditions explained (+wishes in Greek)

Have you ever been to Greece during Easter?

The weather is mild, the smell of flowers is sweet, the anticipation is glorious.

Greeks love Easter with its message of love, the new beginnings, the emotional Holy Week - or Passion Week as we still say in Greek.

Everything about this special holiday is so tied to the culture and the traditions.

Traditions we cannot really trace them back in time.

Here are 7 of the most important things you need to know about Easter in Greece. For Orthodox Christians, many of these are very similar of course, but there are always things that might surprise you.

#1 Sarakosti

After the 40 days of Lent called Σαρακοστή (from the number 40 , σαράντα), Greeks get prepared for Easter.

Σαρακοστή is pictured as a woman with 7 legs (for the 7 weeks until the Easter week), hands in prayer and no mouth, to represent the Lent. In some areas, people still make a Σαρακοστή dough lady, from an inedible salty dough - to last until Easter.

a traditional picture of kyra sarakosti

a traditional picture of kyra sarakosti

Starting on the Saturday after Clean Monday, they cut a leg. The last leg is cut on Holy Saturday and it is hidden in a dried fig. Whoever gets this fig is lucky!

Why not make one Σαρακοστή this year? It’s very easy.  Watch the video in Greek here and practice listening as well! (Use the gear icon to slow the audio down if you like)

#2 Easter candle & godparents

Children are over the moon this season: Easter holidays last the same as Christmas. 2 whole weeks!

But it’s not the only reason to be happy.

Their νονά (godmother) or νονός (godfather) gives them their λαμπάδα  (the Easter candle) and also the usual Easter gift: new shoes or money. A big chocolate egg is a favourite treat as well.

In the Greek culture, the relationship between νονά (godmother) or νονός (godfather) and the child, is a special one, as it starts at the baptism and lasts for a lifetime.  

#3 Wishes

Now there’s admittedly some confusion about the wishes in Greek.

We do love our wishes for sure. We have plenty.

"Happy Easter" (Καλό Πάσχα) in Greek is the wish we say before Easter to refer to the Easter celebrations and Holy week as a whole.

Closer to the Resurrection on Sunday, Greeks say "Καλή Ανάσταση".

But on the day of Easter, on Sunday, we say "Χριστός Ανέστη".

Confused? It's about the order up to Resurrection:

1. Καλό Πάσχα (for the holiday period)

2. Καλή Ανάσταση (for the night of Resurrection)

3. Χριστός Ανέστη (it means the Christ is risen, so it is said on Easter Sunday)

Hey! I can’t leave you without a bonus wish. Αληθώς Ανέστη (He is truly risen) is the reply when someone says to you Χριστός Ανέστη:

- Χριστός Ανέστη, Κατερίνα μου!

- Αληθώς Ανέστη, Γιώργο, με υγεία!

And of course, don’t forget Χρόνια Πολλά, the all-year round, favourite wish.

# 4 Baking

On Μεγάλη Πέμπτη, it’s the baking day.

Τσουρέκι is the sweet bread we make (and eat in large quantities!) for Easter day. It’s a mixture of aromatic spices such as mahleb, mastic and coriander - it smells divine.

There are also the special κουλουράκια, (a bit like cookies) we make on this day.

tsoureki - photo from info kids. gr

tsoureki - photo from info kids. gr

# 5 Eggs

Eggs are usually dyed on this day as well. The usual colour is red, but other colours or decorations have also been added throughout the years.

There’s no egg hunt or Easter Bunny however a bunny or a little chick are used in decorations.

So what do we do all these eggs we dye?

Well, we crack them on Easter day, like this in slow motion !One person wishes Χριστός Ανέστη and the other Αληθώς Ανέστη. It’s fun to see who gets the most durable egg.

easter eggs

easter eggs

# 6 The Holy Week or the Great Week

In Greek, it’s the “Great Week”: Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα, which starts on Μεγάλη Δευτέρα (you’ll see the abbreviation “Μ. Δευτέρα” as well) until Μ. Σάββατο and then of course Κυριακή του Πάσχα. 

Some of the most beautiful hymns are chanted during this time. Επιτάφιος Θρήνος is the very moving hymn chanted on Μεγάλη Παρασκευή (Good Friday).

To learn more about this very special day, read here.

And here watch Glykeria chant this hymn with subtitles in Greek.

It’s beautiful and emotional and probably my favourite moment during Easter.

Preparations for Easter stop during this day.

# 7 Easter day

The midnight mass on Μ. Σάββατο (Holy Saturday) is usually spectacular with fireworks and the Church bells ringing.

People then return to their homes and have a very late dinner of μαγειρίτσα, a special soup with greens and lamb offal.

We also wish to each other while cracking the first red eggs (see #5 above!).

Early in the morning on Sunday, the preparation of the lamb starts.

You might have seen a whole lamb being roasted over a fire set on the ground or a big barbecue and this is usually the way to cook lamb for Easter.

The whole family and friends gather together to celebrate with music, lots of egg cracking, food and wine. The feast doesn't end until later that day!

Easter vocabulary:

το Πάσχα = Easter

η Σαρακοστή (κυρά Σαρακοστή) = Sarakosti (lady Sarakosti)

η Μεγάλη Εβδομάδα = Holy Week

ο Επιτάφιος = Epitaph

η Κυριακή του Πάσχα = Easter Sunday

η λαμπάδα = Easter candle

ο νονός / η νονά = godfather / godmother

Καλό Πάσχα = Happy Easter (for the holiday period)

Καλή Ανάσταση = Happy Ressurection (for the night of Resurrection)

Χριστός Ανέστη = Christ is risen

Αληθώς Ανέστη = He is truly risen

το τσουρέκι = sweet Easter bread

τα κουλουράκια = Greek cookies

το αβγό = the egg

τα κόκκινα αβγά = the red eggs

το αρνί = lamb

A little practice for you: How would you wish in Greek on Easter Sunday? Let me know in the comments.

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