Spring has sprung in the Ionian – temperatures are nudging 20 degrees. Greek Easter is late this year, May 5th – Easyjet and Ryanair April and May flights provide the perfect opportunity to see how the Ionian islanders celebrate it. Easter in Greece or “Paska” is THE most important (and loudest) celebration of the year.
For Greek Orthodox Lent, those who so wish will abstain from eating meat and dairy products for seven weeks. On Palm Sunday churchgoers are given a cross made of palm leaves and the strrets leading to village churches are strewn with palm fronds and flowers. Holy Thursday is egg dyeing day. Good Friday is a holiday and most shops and businesses are closed and restaurants do not serve meat dishes. The procession of the bier of Christ is held on Good Friday evening. Led by a band or choir the bier is normally draped in a gold cloth and decorated with fresh flowers. The procession passes the local village churches.
On the Saturday night the festivities start in each village square – an occasion for all the family. It starts with the Resurrection mass where the Priest and the Church Elders form a procession and the ceremonial candles are lit. At midnight the intoning priest is drowned out by firecrackers and fireworks. Friends, family and strangers are embraced and greeted with the words “Christos Anesti” – “Christ has risen”. After this, everybody goes home for a meal of “margueritsa” (traditionally a lamb’s innards broth) – the fast is over. If their candles are still burning, a cross is made above the doorway with the soot from the wick, to protect the house for the coming year.
Easter Sunday is the official end of Lent and the fasting turns to serious feasting. Goats and lambs are turned on garden spits from early in the morning; the family wine is brought out and the dyed, hard-boiled eggs are cracked – a similar principle to conkers, where you hit the other person’s egg and the one that breaks is the loser.