There are only a few more beautiful things to do in Greece besides celebrating Easter the Greek way.
And celebrating Greek Easter in Santorini is one of the best things to do while on the island.
The most amazing thing about celebrating greek easter in Santorini is the wonderful celebrations at Pyrgos village on the Good Fridayand the incredible food you will be able to taste anywhere on the island during the Easter Sunday.
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No matter how religious you are, you will find a lot of pleasure in exploring Easter traditions in this magnificent place, called Santorini. The Easter traditions in Greece are very different than the other western european countries (catholic, protestants) and what other place is better to observe them from than the wonderful Santorini island?
Before planning your spring holiday in Santorini there are a few things you should know.
Easter is the most important holy celebration in Greece, even more important than Christmas and everybody loves preparing for it.
As you may know, Santorini is a super popular destination for many people around the world mainly during the summer season.
Things to know if you are visiting Santorini during the Greek Easter:
- Greek Easter is one week after the Catholic Easter
- On Good Friday everyone on every village walk with Jesus coffin (this is called “epitaph” or “epitafios”
- The best place to be on a Good Friday in Santorini is Pyrgos village where there are fires all over the rooftops
- The tradition on a Good Friday is to eat seafood after the epitaph walk (basically no meat because you are supposed to be fasting for the whole week)
- On Saturday night before the Easter Sunday, everyone goes to the church late before midnight and then they all gather after that (so around 00:30-01:00) around a pre-Easter meal. The typical thing to eat during that meal is a soup made from the intensils of the lamb that you are suppose to eat the next day.
- On Easter Sunday everyone is doing a BBQ of roast lamb
So, let me explain a bit more those traditions around the Greek Orthodox Easter, why it is at a different time of the year than in other parts of the world and what those red eggs are all about.
The egg has been the symbol for fertility, new life and rebirth in almost every culture around the world, dating back thousands of years.
As with many things, the early church Christianised a pagan belief or festival, and adopted the egg as one of their own.
For Greek Orthodox Christians, the egg is symbolic of the empty rock tomb of Jesus after he had arisen from the Crucifixion.
The eggs are dyed red, to represent his blood. A tradition at Greek Easter is to play a game called Tsougrisma. The game involves two players, and they take a hard boiled egg each. One person then taps the end of their egg onto the other person’s, with the aim being to crack the opponent’s egg. The winner is said to have good luck throughout the year.
This is what basically happens (in slow motion!):
Orthodox Greek Easter
Greek Orthodox Easter is at a different time of year than the Easter of the majority of other Christians. The reason, is that the Greek Orthodox Church continued using the Julian Calendar, when most of the western world switched to the Gregorian calendar.
The other thing to keep in mind, is that Greece takes its religion a little more seriously than other countries. Don’t get us wrong, there are plenty of people here in Greece who don’t believe in God, or who say they do believe, but don’t go to church.
The difference though, is that there are plenty of people that do. Religion is an integral part of society in Greece, and Easter is the most important religious event on the calendar. Certainly more important than Christmas.
The week before Easter is called the Holy Week and traditionally the people fast and go to church once a day. Just enter a church and relax, even if you don’t understand the words there is a certain feeling of peaceand tranquility that will surround you.
Of course, not every Greek fasts, but I am surprised with just how many do.
The restaurants cater for people who are fasting, and there are also a number of tasty vegan dishes on the menu. At first, the rules for fasting seem quite simple.
No meat, no dairy, no fish and no alcohol.
On “Big” Thursday the women dye eggs in red to symbolize the blood of Christ and bake Easter bread – Tsoureki. These will be on the Easter table on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Good Friday is a day of mourning. On the streets on Santorini you will see girls decorating the Epitafio – the funeral bier and after that it is paraded in a somber march.
The village of “Pyrgos Kallistis” (the village’s full name, meaning “the most beautiful tower”) is one of the island’s five castles cities and was the capital of Santorini for centuries.
Declared a protected settlement in 1995, today, the castle city is well-preserved and in many spots you can see a glimpse of history through the 15th century architecture.
Pyrgos is located high up, offering breathtaking panoramic views of the whole island, all the way to the village of Oia.
Many mansions still stand, reminiscent of the wealth of the island during the 18th century.
A simple walk in the streets will take you to another era.
However, what happens on Good Friday night, in one of the most celebrated local customs, is truly special.
The villagers prepare by lighting up thousands of aluminum cans, stuffed with flammable materials and placing them on every house, every roof top, every church, every path, on the entire village and on the Venetian castle, creating an unforgettable picture.
As you approach the village from below, the view of the flickering torches is so spectacular that many visitors come from all over the island just to witness this event.
The entire village glows ablaze as the funeral procession of the body of Jesus Christ (epitaph) starts through the narrow streets, with thousands of people following behind, holding candles.
The winding streets and the hillside views give followers the opportunity to appreciate the sight from afar while being a part of it, in one of the most atmospheric experiences of a lifetime.
In truth, this has little to do with religious beliefs and everyone will appreciate it simply because of its sheer beauty. It is a truly magical sight, not to be missed.
Check out these videos to see how is Good Friday celebrated in Pyrgos :
On Great Saturday night at midnight everybody is at church celebrating The Rise of Christ.
The Priest passes the Holy Flame and everybody sings “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen).
People start to gather in the churches from around 11pm for the Easter liturgies.
Most people take a candle with them, and the idea is to light that from the Holy Flame, and then take it home again after midnight.
If Christmas is incomplete without turkey in most countries, then Greek Easter is incomplete without lamb.
Whole lambs are roasted over a fire pit for several hours, before being taken home for the family feast. Every area of the country has their own way of doing things.
If you are ready to visit Santorini this Easter or plan your vacation for next year, here are my suggestions for accommodation.
This is how the roasting of the lamb on Easter Sunday is prepared and celebrated in Santorini and all over Greece :