There are certain foods intrinsic to the Greek way of life, most of which are enjoyed over the Greek Easter. From spit-roast lamb to special biscuits (koulourakia paschalina), there’s a reason why food is front and center of the celebrations.
As the biggest holiday in the Greek calendar, even eclipsing Christmas, a visit to the country during Greek Easter is on a par with Thanksgiving in America. This year, Greek Easter falls on Sunday 19 April, but you can expect festivals and celebrations in the weeks leading up to it.
Let’s take a look at some of the key dates and food traditions for this festivity.
Ever a good reason to get the celebrations started early, from 17 February onwards, a carnival known as ‘Apokries’ kicks off in the lead up to Easter. Each week has its own theme, with the third-week ‘Tyrini’ a particular favorite for cheese lovers.
A time to indulge prior to lent, the week is celebrated with cheese-heavy dishes, from the many different types made. From goats to sheep’s and cow’s milk cheese, it’s a veritable feast for all the senses!
Otherwise known as ‘smoky Thursday’ or ‘tsiknopempti’, Kretaini is a celebration for meat-lovers everywhere! Held this year on 20 February, it’s a prelude to the 46-days of lent fasting in the run up to Greek Easter.
Some might say, you eat at least 46-days of meat on this day alone, with big grills serving up mammoth size portions of; sausages, spit-rose lamb, pork chops, souvlaki and many other delightful dishes to pre-empt the Greek Easter.
If you love meat, this is most definitely the right time to visit!
You might know it as lent, clean Monday is the first day of the lent period, starting on the seventh Sunday before Easter – this year on 2 March 2020. The name signifies having “clean hearts and good intentions” as you enter into lent.
Traditional food is displayed for visitors to enjoy, although many families head to the beach or the countryside for the day.
Vaion Sunday, or Palm Sunday (5 April) is another day of a great tradition. Despite it being lent, it’s a day of feasting on fish as well as oil and wine. However, dairy products and red meat are still abstained.
A slow-baked salted cod or freshly caught fish roasted with tomatoes and onions are particular local favorites for Greek Easter.
Holy Friday is considered a day of mourning, and as such most devout Orthodox Greeks do not cook. Those that do eat simple, humble, and traditional foods can be boiled in water. A popular Greek dish, beans or light soups (such as tahinosoupa) is most commonly enjoyed.
The preceding day is another reflective day. Holy Saturday is typically dedicated to cooking for the following day. Traditional soups such as mageirista featuring offal, dill, and lemon are prepared, which are enjoyed after midnight mass to ‘break’ the fast.
Taking place on Sunday 12 April, the Greek Easter is a day of feasting following the 46-day ‘fast’ prior to it.
There are regional variations, but some traditions stay true. Of these, red-dyed eggs might just be the most famous. These are said to represent the blood of Christ as well as the notion of rebirth.
The celebration culminates with dining on lamb or goat (especially popular in the Greek islands)– either spit-roasted or oven-roasted. These are often stuffed using bulgar wheat, rice, and local herbs and spices.
There are also delicious Greek Easter breads and biscuits that everyone enjoys looking forward to.
So, there you have it, the many great and mouth-watering traditions of a Greek Easter.
Καλό Πάσχα (Happy Easter)!