Easter in Greece:  Celebrating the Ressurection of Christ

Exploring the customs and traditions behind a Greek Easter.

Greece

Figure 1:  Map of Greece and neighboring countries (www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/greece.html)

 

Abstract

     Easter in Greece is one of the most significant celebrations that occur in the country. Easter celebrations in Greece began long before the beginning of the Christian era and continue today with a large following. The performance of the celebration takes place in many venues such as churches and village squares all with the intent of celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Spiritual purity is attained through these celebrations and the growing popularity of these celebrations creates positive benefits both socially and culturally.

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Additional Image 1   Additional Image 2

Figure 2:  Burning of the Judas Doll on Easter Day. (www.sfakia-crete.com) Figure 3:  Easter service taking place outside of a local church. (www.sfakia-crete.com)

Introduction

      Easter in Greece is expressed by many traditions and customs all celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Through my research I have come to the conclusion that the celebration of Easter in this nation is like none other, and spiritual purity achieved makes it a significant celebration. The celebration takes place at the end of Lent and many Greeks call it the day of return to the flesh. Lent is a tradition that lasts 40 days, and during this time all Greeks renounce meat and not common items like chocolate, alcohol, or cigarettes that you see with tradition in the United States . At the end of the 40 days Greeks celebrate with a joyful and communal feast. This feast and many other traditions and celebrations of Easter in Greece will be explained further in this site. The great cultural significance of this celebration is related to concepts of spiritual purity. Spiritual purity allows all individuals whom participate in the celebration to believe that they are to be forgiven for their sins. It is further believed that spiritual purity can also provide hope and direction for an individual who is lost and seeking guidance. After learning the story of Christ and celebrating his resurrection it gives the lost individual a sense of security, and makes them feel that their life and physical existence has a purpose. In a sense it makes the individual feel as if their life has been resurrected as well and this in turn provides a connection between the individual and Jesus Christ.

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Context of Greece

      Greece is located in Southern Europe, bordering the Aegean Sea, Ionian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea . It can also be located between the countries of Albania and Turkey (refer to figure 1). The total land area of Greece is about 132,000 square kilometers. This area is comparable to the size of Alabama , but Greece is slightly smaller. The highest point in Greece is found at Mount Olympus with the lowest point leveling off into the Mediterranean Sea . There are also many neighboring islands surrounding the main coastline that are Greek territories. The landscape consists of many mountain ranges with many of them extending into the seas as peninsulas. Greece has a temperate climate. The seasons normally consist of fairly mild temperatures with extremely wet winters and a summer season that is hot and dry.

    Greece established itself as a country when they achieved their independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1829. There national holiday of Independence Day is marked on March 25 for this day was the start of the war of independence. From this time Greece has been grown by adding several islands and territories. Most of these additions took place in the second half of the 19 th century and during the beginning of the 20 th century. After achieving national independence Greek was a country ruled by a military dictatorship. Several years passed before we observed the overthrow of the dictatorship to a parliamentary government. The first democratic election did not occur until 1974. Many Greeks are occupied by local tourist companies to accompany the large amount of tourists that visit the country each day. Other Greeks are employed by processing plants working with food and tobacco or by industries specializing in textiles, metal products, mining and petroleum.

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Origins of Easter

     Greece officially began their Easter Celebrations as a nation in 1829 when the country gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire . The real origin of the celebration began long before beginning of the Christian era, but many believe the strength of the customs and traditions surrounding a Greek Easter originated with the formation of the Greek Orthodox Church in 1054 (Kochilas 2001). Until this point the Orthodox Church was part of the Roman Catholic Church, but theological, political, and cultural differences separated the two religions. Now at least 95 percent of all Greeks claim membership to the Greek Orthodox Church (Brown 2004).

     The origin of the Easter name came from ancient Gods and Goddess. Easter was named after the Great Mother Goddess Eostre (Mann 2004). Eostre is derived from the ancient word for spring which is eastre. Other sources site the Easter came from the Jewish term Pascha. Pascha is translated over in English to mean Passover (Pack 2001).

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Performance

      The week of Easter begins on Palm Sunday and there are church services everyday commemorating the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. These services may be held in large churches where masses of people will attend or other services may be very personal with only 15 to 20 people participating (Figure 3). The type of service experienced and the amount of people attending vary with different regions of the country; the larger cities normally experience greater numbers of people at the services. On Thursday of this Holy Week the churches commemorate the Last Supper and the Betrayal of Christ by Judas. This day marks some of the biggest customs followed by Greeks during Easter. Many Greeks across the nation will make a stuffed Judas doll and burn it at a stake in order to show their hatred for Judas' acts of betrayal because they feel Judas is to blame for all of society's ills (Figure 2). Other Greeks will engage in making hard-boiled eggs and then dye these eggs red. The color red signifies the blood of Christ. Then at 11 p.m. on Saturday almost all Greeks will be in church to hear priest announce the Resurrection of Christ. After the completion of the Resurrection services Greeks prepare themselves for Easter Sunday.

     Easter Sunday is accompanied by many customs and traditions. According to Cavalcanti (2003) the towns of Arachova and Livadeia participate in a communal celebration of roasting lambs in the village square. After the roast is complete the whole village joins in the massive feast. The feast is incorporated with singing, dancing, and drinking that lasts deep into the night. Also, the red dyed hard-boiled eggs are brought out and passed around the village (Figure 4). Each person takes their egg and hits against another persons egg. The significance of this tradition is that the last person who has an un-cracked egg is considered the lucky person for the year. In the southern part of the country many people will go to the main squares of each city and watch the saetapolemos, which are rockets without sticks that the men will hold while the force explosions makes them jump as if they are dancing. This practice supposedly goes back to the War of Independence when the Greeks used these hand bombs to scare the Turks of the Ottoman Empire off their horses and lose their mounted advantage.

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Artifact

Figure 4:  Red dyed hard-boiled eggs passed out among villagers on Easter day.  (www.vafiasgroup.gr/news/easter.html)

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Interpretation

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Prognosis for Easter in Greece

     Religious celebrations are alive and the customs and traditions that accustom each celebration are highly respected among many Greeks. Easter in Greece is the most intensely celebrated religious holiday (Hass 2003). Other holidays such as Christmas and the Assumption of the Virgin are other religious holidays celebrated in Greece , but the numbers of people that attend the numerous church services for these holidays are quite small when compared to Easter services. As mentioned previously 95 percent of all Greeks claim membership to the Greek Orthodox Church, and it is not uncommon for all members to attend some type of church service and celebrate the resurrection of Christ (Brown 2004). It is also common to see many Greeks that live outside of Greece make a trip back to their homeland during the Easter celebrations thus contributing to the growing popularity of this celebration. The fact that this celebration occurs during the spring in which Greece can be observed in its full beauty could account for the vast number of people celebrating Easter. Also, the growing number of customs and traditions that are fun and full of excitement accounts for the popularity growth.

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Conclusion

     The belief in a relationship between and individual and Jesus Christ can not be measured. It is impossible to describe this perceived relationship because it differs with each individual person, but the benefits and the spiritual purity achieved by celebrating this relationship in the form of Easter celebrations shows personal, social, and cultural significance. Easter in Greece is one of the most significant celebrations to exist because it provides a medium for this relationship to either be established or reinforced. The fact that the customs and traditions that encompass Easter celebrations are passed on from generation to generation in a highly organized and respected fashion, and have been undisturbed for several centuries only support the significance of the celebration. I believe that if the Greek culture stopped celebrating this significant event the culture would still be able to survive, but the strength of the Greek culture would be greatly reduced.

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Internet References Cited

    Hass, Jack.

         2003  Easter Celebration in Greece:  Recognizing Christ's Passion,      www.iconoclastpress.com/Easter.html, accessed on September 20.

    Mann, Dick.

         2004  The Origin of Easter, http://helpministriesinternational.org/easter.html,accessed      on October 18.

    Pack, David C.

         2001  The Restored Church of God:  The True Origin of Easter,                                                  www.restoredcog.org/books/ttooe.html, accessed on October 18.

    Website

         2004  Greek and Cretan Easter Customs, http://www.sfakia-crete.com/sfakia-      crete/greekeaster.html, accessed on October 18.

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Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Barnett, James.
  •      2002  The Easter Festival-Study in Cultural Change.  American Sociological Review        14(1):62.
  • Brown, John P.
  •      2003  Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece:  Religion, Politics, and Culture.
  •      Catholic Biblical Quarterly 66(3):443.
  • Cavalcanti, H.B.
  •      2004  Easter Sunday.  Paterson Literary Review 32(7):249.
  • Davies, Merryl Wyn.
  •      2002  Introducing Anthropology.  McPherson's Printing Group.  Victoria.
  • Website
  •      2000  CIA:  The World Factbook 2000:  Greece.  Central Intelligence Agency, Library of
  •      Congress, Washington District of Columbia.
  • Kochilas, Diane
  •      2001  At Easter, an Aegean Idyll.  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30(2):151.
  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner.
  •     1982  Religious Celebrations.  In Celebration:  Studies in Festivity and
  •     Ritual.  Victor Turner, ed, pp. 201-219.  Smithsonian Institution Press,
  •     Washington.
     

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