Greek Easter in Athens
Easter is the biggest Greek holiday of the year! If you’re planning to spend Greek Easter in Athens expect both crowded and deserted streets. Here’s why…
*Updated April 2017
Easter in Athens
The pace of the Greek capital has its ebb and flow during the week that is called Megali Evdomada. It means Holy Week.
More on the Big Holy Week in Athens
First, here’s some background on Greek Easter in Greece.
Easter is called Pascha in Greek. When referring to the week leading up to Easter Sunday, each day gets the Greek word for big, which translates to holy, in front of it. Monday is Megali Deftera, Tuesday is Megali Triti and so on. Why? Easter is the most significant holiday in the country. Shops are bustling with traffic because folks buy gifts for family, godchildren or they are stocking up anything necessary for hosting a big holiday get together.
Then on Greek Easter weekend, you can witness old traditions that are very much alive. Look out for these events on these days:
Head to an epitaphios on Good Friday, the day is known in Greek as Megali Paraskevi. The epitaphios is the procession of Christ’s epitaph representing Christ’s grave that parades from the church, out to the streets and back to the church. The wooden construction is often intricately decorated with flowers and it quite a sight to see. It’s a very interesting aspect of Greek Orthodoxy to observe.
The procession is often large and usually begins around 7 to 8 p.m., sometimes later. In Athens, you can choose from several churches to see this holy parade. Here are a few suggestions that are right in the heart of the capital and in picturesque locations.
- Filopappou Hill: Church of Agios Demetrios Loumpardiaris
- Plaka District: Agios Dimitrios or Agia Aikaterini
- Syntagma Square: Panagia Kapnikarea (on Ermou St.)
- Monastiraki (Agia Irini Square): Agia Irini
On Holy Saturday or Megali Savvato, head back to a church in Athens and be prepared for a standing room only gathering. One recommendation on this night is the St. George church up on scenic Lycabettus Hill in Kolonaki. Arrive around 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. and you’ll also get an amazing view to boot.
Purchase a lambada or long stemmed candle. It will be lit at midnight — lit by the flame of a fellow church goer. At that time the priest announces the resurrection of Christ and everyone greets one another saying “Christos anesti“ meaning Christ has risen.
This was my first year staying in the city for “big” Easter weekend. I was in my neighborhood of Kolonaki and it was a happy surprise to see the city come alive at midnight.
In my YouTube channel video you can hear the commotion that went on and on at the churches across the city. See the fireworks in the distance and listen for the gunshots, religious chanting and even canons booming from the top of Lycabettus Hill. I loved it!
The whole ordeal is then followed by a traditional meal. Yes, after midnight!
Greeks usually head to a restaurant or go home to eat magiritsa which is a soup made from lamb offal. I personally think it is delicious.
Greek Easter Sunday
On Easter Sunday called Kuriaki tou Pascha, we found the streets of Athens empty. Check out this photo of Agia Irini or St. Irene Square that is usually full with cars, motorcycles and pedestrians. A much different scene than the days leading up to Easter Sunday.
Where did everyone go? They went off to eat the Easter Sunday lamb either at home or out in the countryside near Athens.
Easter Sunday Lamb
On Easter Sunday, anyone who hasn’t left for the countryside or the islands would either be relaxing at home in Athens or invited to a home someplace to feast on oven roasted lamb or spit-roasted lamb.
We drove about an hour away to Corinthos to eat at Stef’s parents’ house.
This photo below is of our eight kilo lamb on the spit. I learned early on that Greek families will invest in a little engine machine that whirls the lamb around the open oven for hours. The alternative is turning it manually. If you’ve never had lamb this way — slow roasted all day long over a fire — it’s absolutely delicious.
Here are some more Easter in Athens tips:
- Red Easter Eggs
If you are traveling around Greece you may notice that Easter eggs aren’t pastel. Rather they’re painted red. Red stands for the blood of Christ.
- Easter Egg Cracking Game
Greeks have a cracking game called tsougrisma that everyone loves, especially the kids. You can read more about why it is done in this article.
- Greek Easter Food
For a list of eatery suggestions to experience the traditional Easter foods including magiritsa check out this post in Culinary Backstreets.
The Upcoming Summer Season
For me, Easter in Athens is the lovely beginning of warmer days leading to a beautiful Mediterranean summer. I’ll end with a few wildflowers we picked during the sunset Greek Easter Sunday out in Corinthos, just outside of Athens.
If you’re planning to travel to the Greek islands during Greek Easter check out my post:
Have you traveled in Greece during Greek Easter week or Easter in Athens?