Greek Orthodox Easter Customs
In Greece, the actual Easter festival begins several days before Easter. Preparations begin on Holy Thursday, when the tsoreki, or Easter bread, is baked, and the eggs are dyed red, symbolizing the blood of Christ.
Many Orthodox fast in the days leading up to Easter, restricting themselves from meat, butter, milk and olive oil. Most also go to their priest to make their confessions and partake in the Holy Communion.
On Good Friday, the church’s priest or monk takes down the icon of Christ from the cross and wraps it in linen, reenacting the ancient burial rituals. The icon is then placed in a casket surrounded by white lilies, and paraded through the town as worshipers lament the death of Christ.
On Holy Saturday, parishioners attend late night mass, bringing with them unlit candles. As the clock strikes midnight, the priest announces joyously, “Christos anesti” or “Christ Has Risen”.
Worshipers light their unlit candles from the church’s Holy Flame, which is said to be have taken from Jesus’ nativity cave in Jerusalem.
The pre-Easter fast ends with this lighting ceremony, so worshipers quickly return home to enjoy a feast meal. The soot from the burning candles is often used to make the sign of a cross upon a home’s threshold. A cross from the Holy Flame candles is thought to protect the home and its inhabitants during the coming year.
Easter Sunday is considered a festive day of rejoicing with friends and family. The traditional meal is roasted lamb-symbolizing Jesus, the Lamb of God-and dyed eggs.
Greeks have an egg cracking tradition, known as tsougrisma, which is somewhat akin to American’s wishbone tradition on Thanksgiving. In Greece, friends and neighbors crack their eggs against one another’s to see who ends up with the whole egg. The one holding the last whole egg is deemed the lucky one. Making the feast even more jovial is the free flowing Greek wines and ouzo, which often help these meals last well into the night.
Many of these colorful traditions are practiced today not only in Greece, but in America and other countries around the world with growing Greek immigrant communities. Whether new immigrant or third-generation, the Greek community abroad is strong-and nothing brings out that Greek pride more than the Easter celebrations.