Growing up in the United States, my Easter traditions included colorful eggs, the Easter Bunny, an egg hunt, an Easter basket, going to church, and spending time with family. Then I married a man from Greece and learned about Pascha – the most important observance in the Greek Orthodox faith – and its special Easter traditions.
Most years, Western Christian churches and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter on different dates- based on different calendars. The Western churches use the Gregorian calendar (the standard calendar for much of the world) while Orthodox churches use the older, Julian calendar. This year, however, they fall on the same day – April 16. That won’t happen again until 2025!
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The celebration of the Greek Orthodox Easter starts on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Churches are decorated with palm branches and have daily morning and evening services.
Holy Thursday is the day for dying eggs. Eggs are a symbol of renewal, and they are dyed a deep red color symbolizing the blood of Christ. It is important to make enough for the egg challenge played after the Easter feast. (More on that later!) Traditional baked goods such as koulourakia (Easter cookies) and tsoureki (an Easter bread) are also prepared or purchased.
On Holy Friday, churches decorate the Epitaphion (a cloth icon representing the dead body of Jesus Christ) with spring flowers. After the evening service, the Epitaphion is brought out of the church and paraded with the local band. The church chanters chant religious psalms while the church bells toll mournfully, simulating a funeral procession for Christ.
On the morning of Holy Saturday, food preparation begins for the feast the following day. Children receive new clothes, shoes and special candles called labatha from their godparents. The candles are usually white, pink, or light blue and decorated with ribbons.
The Easter service takes place at midnight. As the congregation holds unlit white candles, the priest brings out the Holy Light chanting, “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen) and the worshippers reply, “Alithos Anesti” (Truly, He is risen). The flame gets passed from person to person until the church and outside the church are filled with light, creating a beautiful sight. After the service, it is time to go home and eat magiritsa (an Easter soup, traditionally made from lamb offal) and break red eggs, symbolizing the end of the forty-day fast.
Tsougrisma, the traditional egg challenge, is something all ages look forward to playing. Holding your own egg, you lightly tap the end of it against the end of your opponent’s egg. The goal is to crack your opponent’s egg, without cracking your own. The player who cracks the eggs of the other players is the winner and is believed to have good luck for the coming year.
On Easter Day, families gather to celebrate – roasting lamb on the spit, enjoying traditional side dishes, drinking wine and ouzo, singing and dancing. Easter Monday is a national holiday and is typically spent relaxing and enjoying all the leftover food.
My husband and I have enjoyed merging and sharing the traditions of both Easters with our own children. Sometimes on the same day and sometimes weeks apart. However YOU celebrate, Happy Easter!
More Pascha Resources
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- Catherine’s Pascha – A Celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church by Charli Riggle. A beautiful story told from the perspective of a young girl determined to stay awake for the midnight service. The reader is taken on a wonderful journey as she shares her experience celebrating Pascha.
- Catherine’s Pascha website has an abundance of information, recipes, egg dying tips, crafts, and lots more!
- The Lucky Egg by Anna Prokos. A young boy anxiously awaits his favorite part of Pascha – the egg cracking game, while learning the story behind Easter and some special Greek traditions.
- Where are the Easter Eggs? by Sujatha Lalgudi. A fun Easter counting book from 1-20.
- Jojo’s Easter Egg Hunt by Sujatha Lalgudi. Teaching kids to never give up, Jojo goes on his first Easter egg hunt.
- Traditional Greek Easter Recipes from My Greek Dish
- Print our FREE Venn diagram eggs for comparing Easter traditions around the world. Suggested books and links to learn about a variety of Easter celebrations are included.
Easter is approaching, and once again we are excited to take you on a tour of the world and how it celebrates Easter! Explore the diverse traditions of Easter with us, and don’t miss our series from last year or 2015. You also will enjoy this wonderful overview of global Easter traditions. Find these posts and more on our Easter Around the World Pinterest board:
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