Author and photographer: Annette Spaan
Dutch Travel Journalist Annette Spaan spent months at The Odyssey and is a guest blogger for Katerina’s Kouzina. Read all about her experience of Greek Easter at The Odyssey last year.
Coming from the Netherlands, Christmas has always been the biggest religious event for me. Now that I have celebrated Easter on Poros last year, my outlook has changed. In Greece Easter is the most important holiday and is celebrated in a big way. I ate more than I have ever eaten at any Christmas party, joined a holy procession and watched fireworks as if it were New Years Eve.
Many traditions that go back to the beginning of Christianity are followed during the weeks prior to Easter Sunday. On the Monday 40 days before Easter – Clean Monday – the fasting period for the Greek Orthodox Church begins. The faithful are not supposed to eat meat of any kind, nor any dairy products. Certain types of seafood are allowed, such as octopus, prawns and sepia.
The Holy Week
Most important is the last week before Easter Sunday, the Holy Week. It is also called Megali Evdomada, translated as: The Big Week. All its days are called Megali, Big. During the Holy Week the churches have daily services, sometimes even two per day. Most Greek people only fast during this period.
Katerina informs me that certain traditions have to take place every day of the Holy Week. Many of them have to do with food. “Like all the big traditions in Greece, Easter is characterised by special dishes, cakes, breads and soups. The lamb on the spit on Easter Sunday is the most important of the traditional foods.”
Katerina: “The Greek people have to go to church, make sure the shopping is done and prepare the house.”
On this day Katerina and I make the traditional Easter cookies for Easter Sunday, koulourakia. While the spring sun dances over our skin, we shape the dough into different forms.
As a symbol for the blood of Christ, we dye the Easter eggs red today with a special dye. During the Saturday night’s celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they will be cracked in the game of egg tapping and then eaten.
There is also special sweet bread eaten on Easter Sunday: Tsoureki. Katerina and I bake the bread on this day, as is the tradition.
Another tradition that is followed around this time is making Easter candles. When you have a godchild you make one for them and present it. They are decorated in many different ways, for example with bows, fake flowers, ribbons and little dolls.
Easter candles from the ERGANI weaving shop in Poros-town
This day is known as Good Friday, when the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is commemorated. It should be a day of rest. In the early evening Katerina and I drive to Poros-town on the scooter. Because of Good Friday, all the churches on the island open their doors from noon until seven in the evening. We visit a couple of them to view the decorated Epitafios, or funeral biers. They will be carried through Poros-town during the procession tonight.
Sea of candles
Around 9pm we stand amongst a big crowd in front of Aghios Giorghios church. Katerina’s husband Rik, his mother and guests of the Odyssey have joined us. Everybody is holding a lit brown candle. Inside, the Epitaph mass is coming to an end. I listen to the singing voices and smell the incense that finds it’s way through the door like an ethereal mist.
A wooden cross is carried outside and the decorated Epitafio follows. The Holy procession begins. We join together with hundreds of people, creating a sea of candles that flows down from the whitewashed stairs to the sea.
It looks like all of the inhabitants of Poros have gathered in the port. As the procession continues, I stand near the shore looking across at Galatas on the Peloponnese. I can see black mountains, lit by long trails of candles going down. The beauty of it overwhelms me. Both the image, and the idea that everybody in Greece in this moment is joining the same kind of procession.
On Saturday morning I wake up at the Odyssey and find this nice surprise on my outdoor table. The Easter bunny must have paid me a visit!
Katerina is busy in the kitchen preparing the Easter soup maghiritsa. It’s traditionally made with lamb intestines, but Katerina prefers to prepare it with meat only. The soup will be served just after midnight when the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. When the clock strikes 12 the period of fasting ends.
Celebrating the resurrection of Christ
Around 11 pm the sound of bells in Poros-town dominate the sky. With the same group that joined yesterday I walk from the Odyssey to the church at the navy base, Saint Nicholas. Restaurants are busy preparing for the dinners after midnight. One has a pig roasting on a spit.
Hundreds of people have gathered around the church. Everyone is all dressed up. It’s almost midnight. Psalms sound mystical against the dark sky. This time people are holding a white candle rather than the brown ones of the previous night. All the flames flicker harmoniously together.
Everyone is leaving the church and following the priest to the sea. On a podium decorated with palm leaves he addresses the crowd. Church bells start to ring, ‘Christós Anésti’ (Christ has risen) is spoken and fireworks explode in the sky. It’s midnight and the resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated.
People all around me kiss each other on the cheek and wish them a happy Easter. Listening and looking at the popping fireworks, it feels like New Years Eve.
Once the fireworks end, trails of flames move towards the exit. I see a mini-bus filled with people holding burning candles. The church bells continue to ring. I witness the first traffic jam since I arrived in Poros. Walking back to the Odyssey, I hear Greek music coming from open windows and doors of houses. People are entering restaurants. At a quarter to one, the island is alive as it can be.
Back at the Odyssey Rik traditionally takes his candle and creates a protective cross of dark smoke on the door frame. Each of us takes a red egg and play the Easter game of egg tapping; you try to crack another person’s egg, and the winner’s egg is the one that stays in one piece. Unfortunately mine cracks, but the game is good fun!
We eat the eggs, drink white wine and Katerina serves the traditional maghiritsa soup. What a special week it has been. And the best is still to come: tomorrow is the big Easter party!!!
Next week on Katerina’s Kouzina: Greek Easter at The Odyssey part 2