Easter is the most sacred observance in the Greek Orthodox faith. Preparations for Easter come to a climax toward the end of Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
Holy (or Great) Thursday
Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the traditional Easter bread, tsoureki, is baked, and eggs are dyed red (as a representation of the blood of Christ). In the evening, church services include a symbolic representation of the crucifixion, and the period of mourning begins. In many villages – and in cities as well – women will sit in church throughout the night, in traditional mourning.
Holy (or Great) Friday
The holiest day of Holy Week is Holy Friday. It is a day of mourning, not of work, and church bells ring all day in a slow mournful tone. Traditionally, women and children take flowers to the church to decorate the Epitaphio (the symbolic bier of Christ). The Service of Lamentation mourns the death of Christ and the bier, decorated lavishly with flowers and bearing the image of Christ, is carried on the shoulders of the faithful in a procession through the community to the cemetery, and back. Members of the congregation follow, carrying candles.
Holy (or Great) Saturday
On Holy Saturday, the Eternal Flame is brought to Greece by military jet and is distributed to waiting priests who carry it to their local churches. On the morning of Holy Saturday, preparations begin for the next day’s Easter feast. Dishes that can be prepared in advance are made, and the traditional mayiritsa soup is prepared, which will be eaten after the midnight service, to break the fast. The midnight Service of the Resurrection is an occasion attended by everyone who is able, each holding a candle. Crowds are so big that churches fill to overflowing as anticipation mounts. Shortly before midnight, all lights are extinguished and churches are lit only by the Eternal Flame on the altar. When the clock passes midnight, the Priest calls out “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen), and passes the flame, the light of the Resurrection, to those nearest him. The flame is then passed from person to person, and it isn’t long before the church and courtyard are filled with flickering candlelight. The night air is filled with the singing of the Byzantine Chant “Christos Anesti,” and the “fili tis Agapis” (kiss of Agape) and wishes are exchanged. As is the custom, as soon as “Christos Anesti” is called out, church bells ring joyously non-stop, ships in ports all over Greece sound their horns, floodlights are lit on large buildings, and great and small displays of fireworks and noisemakers are set off.
Traditional Easter Wishes
Once the Priest has called out “Christos Anesti,” friends and neighbours exchange the same, saying “Christos Anesti” and, in response, “Alithos Anesti” (truly, He is risen) or “Alithinos o Kyrios” (true is the Lord).
Christos Anesti say: khree-STOHSS ah-NES-tee
Alithos Anesti say: ah-lee-THOHSS ah-NES-tee
Alithinos o Kyrios say: ah-lee-thee-NOHSS o KEE-ree-yohss
Once home, everyone gathers around the table for a traditional meal to break the fast, which includes the mayiritsa soup (a delicious lemon meat soup made with lamb offal and flavoured with fresh lettuce and dill), tsoureki (sweet bread), and the red eggs. But before the eggs are eaten, there’s a traditional challenge: “tsougrisma.” Holding your egg, you tap the end against the end of your opponent’s egg, trying to crack it. It’s a game enjoyed by children and adults alike. Eggs are often made in very large quantities since the game continues on the next day with more friends and family.
At dawn on Easter Sunday, the spits are set to work, and grills are fired up. The customary main attraction of the day is whole roasted lamb or goat (kid) to represent the Lamb of God, however, many prefer oven and stove-top lamb or kid dishes. Ovens are filled with traditional accompaniments and all the trimmings. Great Greek wines, ouzo, and other drinks flow freely, and preparations for the meal turn into festive celebrations even before the eating begins. These high-spirited gatherings often last long into the night.
Another national holiday, Easter Monday is a day to take things slowly, and certainly a day filled with delicious leftovers!
Easter celebrations in Chania
Throughout the week shops will be open 9:00 – 14:00 and 18:00 – 21:00. All shops will be closed on Holy Saturday (after 15:00), Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
Some tavernas and restaurants close on Holy Friday, some on Saturday & some on Sunday. So really it is a “see what is open” – or ask in the taverna what they are planning on doing over Easter holiday. There isn’t a rule that everyone follows, so it is difficult to know what is open or not.
Museums & Sites:
Holy Friday : Open 12.00-19.00
Easter Sunday : Closed