For Orthodox Christians, Easter is an important religious holiday–Greeks take it one step further. This year, Greek Easter Sunday falls on April 16th. Eastern Christianity follows a Julian calendar which is different from the Gregorian calendar that is followed by most of the Christian countries. We will be celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter.
The next time Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter will coincide will be in 2025. Greeks begin preparing for this joyous celebration through different events.
Tsiknopempti: “Smoky Thursday”
This day is celebrated the Thursday before Lent begins, allowing Greeks around the world to cook all the meat products in their house before fasting for 40 days. Anyone strictly observing fast during this period will avoid meat byproducts, such as milk, cheese, and eggs, oil on certain days, and any fish with a backbone.
Apokries: Greek Carnival
The Greek carnival period is celebrated over three weeks before Easter. In Greece during Apokries, you would find street parties, people dressed up, and floats. There will be locals throwing streamers and celebrating with festivities throughout the country.
Holy Week begins on Sunday, April 9th, 2023, with Palm Sunday. On this day, many people will wear bright-colored outfits and head to church in the morning. During this service, there will be a procession with children holding palms around the church. This is to commemorate when Jesus rode on a donkey through Jerusalem following the miracle of rising Lazarus from the dead.
On Holy Wednesday, we prepare for the Holy Unction. The Sacrament of Holy Unction is offered to a baptized Orthodox Christian as healing of their soul and body and for the forgiveness of sins. The Orthodox priest anoints each parishioner with oil on the palms, back of hand, cheeks, forehead, and chin.
On Good Friday, we go to church for the evening service. During the service, there is procession of the Epitafio around the outside of the church. After the procession, each parishioner goes under the Epitafio, which holds Christ’s body.
Then, Holy Saturday begins with the Mikri Anastasi (first resurrection). During the morning service, we bring our pots and pans or noise makers. The priest comes out of the alter throwing bay leaves and everyone in the church makes noise. This represents Jesus breaking the chains in Hell as He forgave sinners that were chained in Hell.
In the evening, we head for the midnight mass. Just before midnight, the lights of the church are turned off and a small flame illuminates the church. Parishioners light their candles and begin chanting, “Xristos Anesti (Christ is Risen).” We take that flame home and light our candle, burn crosses in our doorways, and prepare to feast with family.
Easter Sunday, Greeks everywhere will prepare for the festivities by roasting a lamb, breaking red eggs, and celebrating with family and friends.
My family begins our Easter celebration by participating in Holy Week starting on Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday we wear our “Sunday’s best” and head to church as a family. After service, we will eat a meal with family containing fish. Typically, this is fried fish, but since I have a gluten allergy, we eat broiled fish.
Tuesday of Holy Week, we will clean our house and finish laundry. I typically do not do laundry on major feast days that week–Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Holy Friday, and Easter Sunday. We dye our eggs that night as well. Traditionally, eggs are dyed red to represent Christ’s blood, but my children are still young and want to dye the fun colorful eggs.
On Holy Thursday, we make our Kouloukakia (Easter cookies) using my Yiayia’s (Grandma’s) recipe. I make some in the traditional style, but my kids use their Easter cookie cutters and add sprinkles to them to make them more appealing.
Most churches host a Good Friday retreat for children to learn about the importance of Holy Friday in the Orthodox Church. Since I am a teacher and don’t take that day off, my family attends Good Friday services in the evening for the Epitafio procession.
My children look forward to Holy Saturday morning service as it is the one time that they get to make excessive noise in church. We typically do not make it to midnight service, as it is past my children’s bedtime and I’d rather them be well rested for Easter Sunday.
On Easter Sunday, we start the festivities early by preparing the lamb on the spit. My husband and dad already have it seasoned and skewered from the night before. We celebrate this joyous day with family and friends! According to my son, it is his favorite holiday!
You can search online to find a Greek Orthodox church around you or to find fun activities for the kids that focus on the Greek Orthodox Religion. I want to wish everyone that celebrates Orthodox Easter a Kali Anastasi and Christos Anesti!
Yiayia Anthoula’s Koulourakia Recipe
- 12 egg yolks
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2 cups of sugar
- 4 sticks of sweetened butter at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 5 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- In a standing mixer, beat the butter until creamy.
- Add the sugar and mix together.
- Add the eggs, mixing well in between each yolk, and vanilla.
- Mix the baking soda and baking powder together and then mix in the orange juice until it foams. Once it foams, add it to the mix.
- Slowly incorporate the flour until the dough isn’t sticky and you can roll it into shapes.
- Spray a baking dish and bake at 350 degrees until cookies are golden brown.