Pascha, otherwise known as Easter, is the most important festival of the Orthodox Church and the Greeks take it very seriously. Their truly unique Easter celebrations are expressed through deeply rooted traditions, wonderful local rituals and festivities throughout the country. These, coupled with the glories of spring, make it the perfect time of year to visit Greece. How can you join in on the festivities? We head to the Greek Isles to find out.
As the Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, Easter is celebrated on a different date from Western churches. Some Orthodox Pascha customs are similar to those of their Western neighbors, however, many are unique to Greece and some are even specific to individual islands. Besides its spiritual characteristics, Easter is also inextricably associated with the reunion of families, coming together to celebrate out in the country, welcoming spring and the awakening of nature.
Anna Deimezi of White Key Villas adores spending Easter on her all-time favorite island of Athenians, Spetses. The island has an important history and an aristocratic background depicted through the well-preserved neoclassical architecture of its buildings. You can enjoy this as well as the local traditions while staying at their Villa Layna (above), set right on a famous corniche.
“Spetses is a fabulous place for family holidays as cars are not allowed on the island and transportation is by water taxis, horse, carriages, mopeds or one of the very few taxi cabs,” informs Anna. “The island is very picturesque with beautiful small walkways filled with flower pots and some lovely beaches where the pines almost reach the water.
“Easter celebrations on the island start on the Saturday before the Holy Week with the Resurrection of Lazaros, where children fill the streets with joy and laughter, singing carols and carrying small flower baskets called “lazarakia”, while on Holy Friday everybody on the island gets together on Poseidonia Square to witness the union of the four Epitaphs crossing paths from the temples of Saint Nikolaos, Analipsi, Saint Antonios and Saint Ioannis. Once there, the Epitaphs are being lifted for as long as possible followed by a short prayer and wonderful chanting before everybody returns to their churches.”
Our Holy Week celebrations carry over on the island of Corfu which, according to Ileana von Hirsch of Five Star Greece, is a particularly wonderful place to experience Easter and the season. They have an exceptional range of luxury villas available on the island, like the above.
“After its winter hibernation, the island explodes in a rainbow of green, red and purple vegetation,” says Ileana, painting a vivid picture of spring. “In addition, the island’s diverse history of Venetian, British and French influences have melded into their own Orthodox Easter traditions resulting in a special and original Holy Week.”
“Be sure to attend the Vespers on Good Friday,” advises Ileana. “It’s during this service that Christ is symbolically taken down from the cross and placed on the Epitaphio. These icons are then decorated with flowers and foliage and carried in procession through the streets.”
Like most places in Greece, the festivities culminate at midnight on Saturday, when everyone attends mass for the Hymn of Resurrection and to receive the Holy Light, a holy flame which the priest uses to light the congregation’s candles, creating a luminous sea throughout the church. After mass this glowing wave of candles spills into the streets and is often followed by fireworks lighting up the night sky.
The next morning families and friends gather to eat magiritsa, a soup made from lamb tripe, rice, dill and lemon. The rest of the lamb is then grilled on a spit for Easter Sunday lunch, served up with more wine and dancing. During both meals it is custom to “toast” with red-dyed eggs, contesting to see who has the most robust egg, a tradition called “Tsougrisma.”
Our Easter meal continues back on Spetses, where Anna can arrange a custom-made traditional menu prepared by one of their private chefs. Otherwise, she gives us the inside scoop on one of her best kept restaurant secrets: Pachni.
“It’s a small family owned taverna literally hidden in Kokkinaria, in the area of Ascension, approximately a 15 minute walk from Dapia,” reveals Anna. “It is the only tavern on the island serving only meat, standing out for its large juicy meat plates grilled on coal. The starters and spoon sweets are all prepared by Niki (the wife), while Kostas, the owner is undoubtedly the best barbeque chef!
“Alternatively, a fancier and truly fabulous option is Orloff. Located in the Old Harbor, it features one of the most amazing courtyards and is famous for its delicious seafood. During Easter it is a great choice for either the Resurrection dinner and especially Sunday lunch, where following the mood of the day, it serves lamb and Tsipouro the strong distilled spirit served with meat.”
Whereas if you’re looking for more of a relaxing escape, with a dash of local culture, sail over to the Island of Mykonos where you can lounge by one of the gorgeous pools of the stylish villas of our experts at Aqualiving (above). In the town of Chora you’ll still catch women singing gospels in the streets until about 9:00 pm on Friday night in addition to the passing of the Holy Light on Saturday night with the locals milling about the small alleys from chapel to chapel.
If you can’t decide which Island to visit, Ileana offers a phenomenal cruise around the Dodecanese islands. Aboard a luxurious Gulet yacht, you will experience the best of the season on the six day cruise stopping in the spectacular bays of Leros, Patmos and Kalmynos. You can rest on the boat, swim in the crystal waters or embark at one of the quaint villages to stroll the narrow streets, discover artisanal shops and savor a glass of local wine on a cafe terrace, all the while absorbing each island’s own Easter traditions.
For more information on how we can help you plan the perfect trip to Greece during Easter or at another time of the year, see our Greek luxury villa experts at this link.