“Happy Easter” – “KALO PASCHA”
For Greeks and The Othodox Church, Easter- or Pascha as its known is the biggest religious holiday of the year..
The lead up to Easter starts in earnest during the holy week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, or as it is known in Greek ‘Megali Evdomada,'(Big week) and Big Thursday sees a mass exodus from Athens as people head to their family villages, islands and holiday homes to spend the long weekend.
Thursday is also the day that traditionally Easter tsoureki is baked, a Type of sweet bread and eggs are dyed red. On Good Friday you´ll hear the church bells ring all day for the funeral of Christ. At nine o´clock Greeks follow a symbolic funeral procession. Many people participate in the quiet procession while carrying candles and the experience overall is quite solemn.
Just before midnight on Saturday every one gathers at the church with their Easter candles (or ‘lambades’ in Greek). Huge crowds mean its virtually impossible to get inside with most people outside in the courtyard and the service played over a loud speaker.
Saturday is the last day of lent and it is filled with preparations for the midnight feast which breaks the 40 day fast of lent. In almost all homes a traditional soup called magiritsa is eaten. Not for the faint hearted it is a soup made from lamb offal and intestines with lettuce, dill and thickened with egg and lemon. Trust me when I say it’s not as bad as it sounds! Although once a year is probably enough!!
And then the big moment! Just before midnight all the lights are switched off, as a symbol of Jesus’ descending to the kingdom of death, and then on the stroke of midnight the church bells start ringing to announce the resurrection of Christ.. People start cheering, greeting and kissing each other and many fireworks go off. “Christos anesti “ Christ has risen, is the greeting followed by the reply “alithos anesti”- he truly has risen.
Everyone carries candles with them to be lit by the priest’s candle which represents the ‘holy flame.’ Each person carefully carries their lit candle home in order to bless their home by drawing a cross with the flame above the entrance for protection from all evil. Many Greek homes will keep the flame burning in a traditional ‘kandili’ until the following Easter.
And then the feast begins! The ‘tsougrisma’ game begins where people break each others´ red eggs by hitting them against each other. The one with the strongest egg is said the have good luck for the whole year! And then the eggs are eaten as part of the feast along with the soup
Easter Sunday is where the fun really happens with the big event being the spit roast lamb. Families gather around drinking ouzo while taking it in turns to turn the lamb and eating mezze. The air is filled with smoke and the smell of bbq lambs everywhere and it is not uncommon to see makeshift bbqs in the street full with lambs turning. Kokoretsi is another Easter favorite, a type of spit roast where the lamb’s offal is wrapped in intestines and cooked till crispy and golden. Again much better than it sounds!! Beer, wine and ouzo are all drunk in large amounts and lots of traditional Greek dancing is done until late in the evening .
We wish you all Kalo Pascha!