Greek Easter 2024: Day-by-day guide, customs, traditions, dates

Greek Easter 2024: Day-by-day guide, customs, traditions, dates

Greek Easter is the single most important religious and cultural holiday in Greece, surpassing Christmas in its significance, atmosphere, and the sheer scale of the festivities involved. I love this holiday period in Greece and in this article, I explain why Greek Easter means so much here, the most important Greek Easter customs and traditions, key Greek Easter expressions and greetings, and the best places to visit during Greek Easter.

Greek Easter Holy Week Dates 2024

Holy Week will begin on Palm Sunday and end on Easter Sunday, May 5, 2024.

➕ Palm Sunday: 28 April

➕ Holy Monday: 29 April

➕ Holy Tuesday: 30 April

➕ Holy Wednesday: 1 May. Children collect vine leaves

➕ Holy Thursday: 2 May. Dolmadakia are made using the vine leaves collected on Holy Monday

➕ Good Friday: 3 May

➕ Holy Saturday: 4 May

➕ Easter Sunday: 5 May

➕ Easter Monday: 6 May

What is the difference between Greek Easter and regular Easter?

I am often in Athens in April because it’s not hot and crowded. On one of my first visits to Athens, I learned one major difference between Greek Easter and regular Easter: they fall on different dates!

I had booked entrance tickets to the Acropolis only to find out that the day I had booked for was Easter Sunday in Greece – about 2 weeks after I had celebrated Western Easter.

Greek Easter is celebrated for a week, culminating on Easter Sunday. Greek Orthodox Easter is always on Sunday and comes a week or two after the Easter of Western Christianity.

That’s because in many other Western countries, we use the Gregorian Calendar, but the Greek Orthodox calendar is the Julian calendar (after Julius Caesar).

Mykonos Chota at Easter
Mykonos Chota at Easter

The whole week leading to Easter is filled with church services for the faithful, but also with many traditional household tasks that lead to the grand Easter Sunday feast, which resembles more a joy-filled garden party with singing and dancing than a pious religious event.

So that was the second thing I learned that’s different between Eastern and Western Easter is that in Greece, Easter is a massive deal, it’s a whole week of celebrations, but the preparations start a month earlier.

In 2017 the Pew Research Center surveyed Greeks and found that 91% of Greeks follow the Greek Orthodox tradition. Greek Orthodox Easter is as much a religious affair as it is a family, local and national celebration.

What is the Greek tradition for Easter?

Holy Week, the period of six days before Easter itself, is full of ritual activities during which the Greeks prepare for Easter.

These preparations are not exclusively religious; the whole society is in a state of anticipation and planning.

Are the kids coming from their university towns back home? Will the relatives living abroad arrive on time?

The inevitable frenetic checking of the weather forecast, sourcing all the ingredients for the Sunday Feast, and above everything – finding a suitable piece of lamb from “a trusted vendor“, that will become a source of pride for the man of the house on the Feast day.

However, the preparations start more than a month before Easter!

Greek Lent (Sarakosti): the lead-up to Easter

The Greeks begin preparing for Easter 40 days before Easter Sunday with fasting and prayers.

Octopus is a traditional Clean Monday dish
Octopus is a traditional Clean Monday dish

The Great Greek Lent marks the preparation period with the official day being called Clean Monday, a day exactly seven weeks before Easter.

On that day, everyone eats fish, seafood, and Lagana, a special flatbread baked exclusively for Clean MOnday.

TIP: Food of all sorts is still available in Greece during Lent.

Holy Tuesday

Although church liturgies intensify in length and number from the beginning of the final week before Easter (also called the Holy Week or the Big Week), the true spirit of Easter descends among the Greeks on Holy Tuesday.

Holy Tuesday is a sad day when the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates the betrayal of Jesus Christ and his being led to his death by the end of the day.

On the same day, after the evening service, the faithful decorate the Epitaphios (Bier of Christ) with multicolored flowers, preparing it for the procession the following day.

Egg dying is well underway
Egg dying is well underway

At home, the real preparation begins – people knead tsoureki (sweet bread where the red egg will be placed), make braided Easter bread or round cookies, and dye red eggs.

On the islands, the whitewashing of houses and yards is a women’s traditional task performed during Holy Easter Week and is usually completed by Holy Thursday.

Holy Friday

Friday starts with the toll of the church bells all around Greece when the church reminds the faithful of Christ’s fate.

Morning service revolves around the commemoration of Christ’s body being taken down from the cross and placed by the priest in the Bier.

The major event of the day, and the one frequented by the whole community, is the evening service, in which the Bier is brought out by selected members of the community who have the honor of carrying it out.

The litany with the Bier leaves the church to circulate through the village, or a city block, or in the case of a coastal place, the procession often descends into the sea itself, signifying the importance of water for the community.

Each church carries its own Bier, so oftentimes, the processions meet in the street in religious symbolism.

Meeting of two Epitaphios processions in downtown Thessaloniki
Meeting of two Epitaphios processions in downtown Thessaloniki

TIP: This litany is called Epitaphios and is a must-see event!

It is an emotionally charged event in which even a foreigner is captured by the sheer calmness of the surroundings and the open-air procession in which whole communities participate, even in central neighborhoods of Athens and Thessaloniki.

ΤIP 2: During the last moments of the service before the Epitaphios, much-loved psalms are sung, including the Axion Esti and O! gliki mou ear, the Virgin Mary’s mourning song.

Holy Saturday

The last day of Lent begins with the morning service, also called “The First Resurrection” as it commemorates Christ’s rise from the dead.

Beautiful to observe, this service includes the change of priest’s robes from mourning black to joyful white and the cheerful tossing of the laurel leaves over the heads of the faithful.

The main event happens in the evening, when everyone gathers inside and outside the church, holding long Easter candles called lampada (acquired during the days of Holy Week).

Easter Sunday, midnight, Christos Anesti in front of the church in Thessaloniki
Easter Sunday, midnight, Christos Anesti in front of the church in Thessaloniki

You hold your candle, waiting for midnight when the priest announces Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) by sharing the Holy Light candle by candle, which quickly spreads to the church courtyard.

Simultaneously, the fireworks above the church announce Easter, and families leave the churchyard and begin walking home. Everyone must ensure the lampada flame doesn’t blow out.

When Greeks arrive home, they use the candle to mark a cross above the entrance as a sign of household.

It’s at this point that I’m ready for bed, but there is a long night (now early morning) ahead!

40 days is a long time to fast so a midnight meal is prepared and a long table laid out for magiritsa, a thick lamb offal soup. This is the way that Greeks begin to eat meat again.

TIP: If you don’t have a Greek friend to invite you over, many tavernas serve the post-church meal long into the night.

Holy Sunday – Easter Sunday

Sunday is a proper feast day, a family-oriented and community-based holiday in which the Easter Sunday lunch table is laid out and enjoyed after the egg-cracking game.

The egg-cracking game is called “tsougrisma” and the whole family competes with each other to see whose red egg is stronger.

Whoever has the most durable egg is the winner!

Terminal 21
Home-cooked Easter lunch

After that, lamb or goat on a spit, an array of cheese and spinach pies, salads, spreads, olives and cheese, washed down with good red wine is served, followed by traditional Greek folk music and dancing.

What do you say at Greek Easter?

➕ Kalo Pascha – Happy Easter

➕ Kali Anastasi – Happy Resurrection

➕ Christos Anesti – Christ is Risen (said on the Easter Sunday)

➕ Alithos Anesti – Indeed He is Risen (a reply)

➕ Sarakosti – 40 day lent period

➕ Chronia Polla – general greeting meaning Many Happy Returns

The 5 Best Places in Greece to Experience Greek Easter

1. Corfu

Greek Easter is wonderful all around the country, but by far the most spectacular celebrations occur in the town of Corfu.

The blend of Eastern and Western influences and the fame of being the most interesting Easter island in Greece keeps the locals’ spirits high and visitors’ expectations big.

2. Patmos

A Dodecanese island with strong religious background is a place where St. John wrote the Apocalypse.

3. Chios

A North Aegean island where the Easter celebration is conducted via large-scale firecrackers and a fireworks “war” between two “rival” church areas in the town.  Great fun!

4. Kalymnos

Another Dodecanese island that marks the arrival of Easter by illegal dynamite throwing!

5. Folegandros

A Cycladic island is not big on visitors for Easter but is a place where the icon of the Virgin Mary is taken from the island’s main church and circulated through all the villages, providing a blessing to each household.  

Spring is here: Easter flowers

Happening in April or early May, Greek Easter also means the spring has arrived.

The red poppy-dotted meadows and pastures all around the country (and the islands, too) are setting the stage for a long-awaited awakening from a rainy winter.

Fira to Oia Santorini Hike in Spring
Santorini wild flowers in spring

This is a time when the vases in the living rooms get bright Marguerites, coats are buried deep in the wardrobes, and school students look forward to the Easter school holidays.

The country is reemerging from its winter hibernation and that is what makes the Greek Easter such an important event in the lives of everyone in Greece.

Above everything, Easter in Greece is a thing Greeks are very proud of and will be only too happy to let you in their celebratory activities.

Greeks on the move

This is also a time when the whole country is on the go. Locals rush to their villages or islands, and the Greek diaspora flocks back to the homeland for cherished family time.

Easter is traditionally celebrated around the beautiful Greek countryside, where one still has a relative who has not migrated to the city or a vacation house.

This is usually an ancestral village home where there are still old folks left to ask you “Who’s kid are you?“ and where Greeks celebrate Easter Sunday in the garden.

You will rarely see locals celebrating Easter in the city.