The Greek year is a succession of festivities and events some of which are cultural and some of which are religious. By far the most important in the Orthodox calendar is Easter and if you are in the right place at the right time you will definitely be invited to join in the revelry.
Spring time is one of the most delightful times to visit. The countryside is abloom with wild flowers, a myriad of vernal colours scattered through the bright green grass; the blood-red wild poppy beautifying the countryside. This is Greece at its greenest! Warm balmy days and chilly nights abound. For those that find the sweltering heat of the summer overwhelming, it is ideal. The water is still cold from the melting snow runoff, and you won’t find the locals swimming yet, but swimming is possible and sailing conditions are ideal.
Greek Easter (or Pascha) is a joyous occasion as the emphasis of the celebration is on the Resurrection as opposed to the Crucifixion of Christ. Preparations start the week before with a general hustle and bustle of cleaning, pruning, painting baking and cooking in Greek homes across the country. The festival starts on Good Friday with the perifora ipotavios when a shrouded bier (representing the funeral bier of Christ) is carried through the streets to the local church and can be witnessed in towns and villages across the country. The religious celebrations culminate in the Resurrection Mass, starting at 11pm on the Saturday night and the climax is when the chief priest brings the ‘holy light’ out into the darkness ( all the lights are switched off ) where the congregation waits; each with their own ornately decorated candle, to receive the light. This symbolizes Christ’s passing through the underworld. The light is passed on from candle to candle until the blackness is banished by the light of a hundred flickering candles. It is a poignant and beautiful ceremony; not to be missed! Everyone then walks home trying to keep the light from their candles burning, to bring the holy light into their houses and prepare to break the Lenten fast with a traditional tripe and herb soup.
Easter Sunday starts off with the cracking of the red Easter eggs which has the children excited to see who has the strongest egg. All over Greece people can be found cooking whole lamb or goat, sometimes more than one, on a spit in the sunshine, drinking tsipouro and greeting neighbours friends and family with Christos anesti (Christ has risen).Preparations occupy everyone and there is a mad rush until everyone finally gathers at the table to feast on lamb and seasonal side dishes all washed down with plenty of wine, tsipouro and beer. Music and dancing and a bit of plate-breaking are the order later on in the day. A real knees-up and a great experience for the passing sailor.
Each area of Greece has a particular way of celebrating with some of the islands having the most interesting and spectacular customs. So if you have booked a sailing holiday in Greece this Easter, be sure to take part in the Easter celebrations!
By Merryn Wainwright