Celebrating Easter in Cyprus and Greece: Most famous traditional Customs and Rituals

April 4, 2023

Forty Days of Great Lent

In Greece and Cyprus, it is traditional for many Orthodox Christians to fast for 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday. This period of fasting is known as “Great Lent” or “Μεγάλη Τεσσαρακοστή” in Greek, and it is a time of spiritual reflection and purification.

During Great Lent, many Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy, and other animal products, as well as oil and wine, in an effort to simplify their diet and focus on spiritual matters. The fast is broken on Easter Sunday, when a feast is enjoyed with family and friends.

In addition to fasting, many people also attend church services and participate in other religious rituals and traditions during this time. Holy Week, in particular, is a very important time in the Orthodox Christian calendar, and there are many special services and events that take place during this week leading up to Easter Sunday.

Red Eggs

The tradition of dyeing eggs red for Easter is a common custom in Greece and Cyprus, as well as in many other Orthodox Christian countries. Red eggs symbolize the blood of Christ and the renewal of life, and they are an important part of Easter customs in these countries. The process of dyeing the eggs red typically involves boiling them with a natural dye made from red onion skins or other natural ingredients.

In some areas, there are additional customs associated with the red eggs. For example, in Greece, it is common to play a game called “tsougrisma,” where two people each hold a red egg and tap them against each other. The goal is to crack the other person’s egg without cracking your own, and the person with the last uncracked egg is considered the winner.

Red eggs are also used in various other Easter customs and celebrations, such as in Easter breads and cakes. The eggs are often placed on top of the bread or cake and baked, creating a colourful and festive decoration.

Flaounes & Tsourekia

Easter breads are an important part of Easter customs in Greece and Cyprus. Flaounes and tsoureki are two examples of traditional Easter breads that are popular in both countries. Flaounes are savoury pastries that are typically made with a mixture of cheese (such as halloumi or feta), mint, and sometimes raisins or sesame seeds. Flaounes are usually enjoyed during the Easter feast, but they can also be eaten during Holy Week as a way of breaking the fast. Tsoureki, on the other hand, is a sweet bread that is typically braided and decorated with red-dyed eggs. The dough is made with ingredients such as milk, butter, sugar, and sometimes mahlab and mastic, which give the bread a sweet and aromatic flavour. Tsoureki is often enjoyed for breakfast or as a dessert during the Easter feast, and it is also a popular gift to give to family and friends during the holiday.

Breaking of ‘Botides’ in Corfu, Greece

In Corfu, on the morning of Holy Saturday with the signal of the first Resurrection at 11 o’clock, the bells of all the churches of the old town ring joyfully and the inhabitants throw their clay pots known as “botides” out of their windows or balconies.

These earthenware utensils are often full of water with a narrow edge and some have handles on the side also can vary in size, and decorations with some having ribbons on them. As soon as the breaking of the “botides” is over, the Philharmonic Orchestras make their parade to the streets of the city playing the cheerful march “Do not be afraid Greeks”.

The breaking of the clay pots symbolizes the removal of misfortune, and is a custom that is celebrated only in Corfu Island. This custom roots back to the years of the Venetian occupation of the island, where on the New Year’s Eve the Catholic Venetians used to break their old pitchers, so as the new year would bring them some new. The Orthodox of Corfu continued the custom transferring it to Easter period.

Rocket War in Chios, Greece

‘Rocket War’, known as ‘Rouketopolemos’ in Greek, is another important Easter tradition in Chios, Greece. It takes place on the evening of Holy Saturday, just before midnight.

The Rocket War takes place in the village of Vrontados, north of Chios town, on Good Saturday. Members of two competing churches, Agios Markos and Panagia Erythiani, stage a ‘rocket war’ yearly. The two churches, which are located 400 meters apart, turn Vrontados into a battlefield. While the churches continue to celebrate mass, they launch tens of thousands of handmade rockets at one another. Each church aims to hit the bell tower of the other church with handmade rockets made of wooden sticks filled with gunpowder-based propellant. The rocket launch lasts for about an hour, and tens of thousands of rockets are fired in total. The noise and spectacle of the event are incredible, and it draws many visitors to the island of Chios each year.

The Rocket War is a unique and exciting tradition that highlights the resilience and determination of the people of Chios, and it has become an important part of the island’s cultural heritage.

The Epitafios procession on Good Friday

On the evening of Good Friday, every church in Greece and Cyprus mourns the death of Jesus, and organizes an Epitafios procession.  The Epitafios is a wooden construction covered with a piece of precious cloth, often adorned in gold and silver. It depicts the dead body of Jesus, and is usually decorated with flower petals. During this ceremony, the Epitafios is carried around every single town and village in Greece and Cyprus. People follow the procession around the neighbourhood, carrying candles. The procession begins and ends at the church, and it’s a uniquely solemn event.

The Anastasi (Resurrection) on Easter Saturday

On Holy Saturday, there are various church services during the day. Late in the evening, people gather outside the church in expectation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we call Anastasi in Greek. The Holy Light, which signifies the Resurrection, arrives from Jerusalem. Exactly at midnight, the flame quickly spreads among the crowd as everyone in the congregation lights their candle.

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