A Greek island Easter is a truly special travel experience in Greece. Here’s what you can expect to do…
Greek Island Easter Experience
*Updated April 2017
Easter is the biggest holiday in Greece, a Greek Orthodox country where traditions are steadfastly followed by all generations with pride. Many people head to the countryside or to the islands to experience the holiday traditions.
Over the years, I have spent Easter in Athens (the capital of Greece where I live) and on Serifos island in the Cyclades. No matter where you plan to travel, Greece surely comes alive during this big holiday that spans a whole week really!
While Athens is a nice place to be, I do think the Greek islands are a special place to travel to during this particular time of the year. Every island has special traditions that are unique. However, you can follow this top 10 list to get an idea of what you can expect to do and see.
1. Go to Town
Every Greek island has a main town. For example, in the Cyclades the main town is called the chora in Greek. In the main town, you can find much of the life of the island including shops, churches and museums. Some islands have particularly picturesque main towns that are draped in bougainvillea or painted in pastel colors. Or, in the case of the Cyclades, are completely whitewashed. If you have more time, visit the other picturesque villages the island may be known for.
2. Have Easter Sweets
The Thursday before Easter, Greeks spend time baking cookies and bread and dyeing eggs. At the island bakeries, look out for a special braided sweet bread called tsoureki. While you are at it, buy a kilo or two of koulourakia which are special Easter biscuits.
3. Visit the Historic Churches
While you are on you Greek island Easter holiday be sure to check out the pretty churches that dot the landscape. These churches and monasteries are often built strategically in places that offer amazing views of the island and the sea. Admire the religious art and icons, too.
One truly memorable Greek church experience I had was on Tinos island at Panagia Evangelistrias. Check out my post A Church of Miracles on Tinos to learn why.
4. Buy a Religious Icon
Many island churches feature beautiful religious icons. The word icon comes from the a Greek word meaning image. A religious icon is a painting depicting the saints, Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary. Some are cast in metal, carved in stone, painted on wood or illuminated on a glass.
Some islands may even sell really exquisite handmade and hand painted Greek Orthodox icons that are made by expert Greek hagiographers.
5. Watch the Holy Parade
No matter where you may travel for Greek island Easter, there will be a special kind of holy parade called an epitaphios.
Be sure you join in on the sidelines and take pictures. During the epitaphios, an icon of Christ is decorated with beautiful flowers. It is then paraded around the town as a big congregation follows it.
6. Go to Midnight Mass
When midnight approaches leading to Greek Easter Sunday, churches on the island will become packed with people.
You’ll notice folks clutching a long stemmed candle. Children also proudly hold their own candles called a lambada which is a colorfully decorated gift from their godparent.
Minutes before midnight, lights are turned off and the priest lights his own candle. His flame is passed onto others until all candles around the church are lit. Church goers will begin to proclaim Christos Anesti which means Christ has risen.
Bells and even fireworks will set off to signify the minute Easter arrives on the island!
7. Eat at Midnight
After the aforementioned church ceremony, Greeks usually don’t go to bed! They go to eat.
The traditional Greek island Easter meal to follow may be late, but it is delicious. It is also a long-standing food custom. Either at local tavernas or at home, the meal always features magiritsa which is lamb offal soup.
8. Have Easter Sunday Lamb
On Easter Sunday, the smell of spit-roasted lamb will fill the air around the island. Lamb is the centerpiece of the traditional Easter Sunday feast.
Greek families and communities get together outdoors to roast a whole lamb on a spit. Some decide to roast a lamb with potatoes in the oven.
9. Break Eggs
Starting at midnight on Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, all those red eggs you’ve been seeing around the island will get cracked!
Join in on the tradition of tsougrisma, a game which symbolizes the breaking open of the tomb and Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Wondering why they are dyed red in the first place? To symbolize the blood of Christ.
10. Dance and Have Fun
While you’re enjoying your Sunday meal and egg cracking be sure to have your dancing shoes on. Someone is bound to pull out a traditional Greek instrument for live music and with that comes Greek dancing!
That sums up my list of the top things to do during a Greek island Easter holiday. Have you experienced a Greek island Easter in Greece?