Easter celebrations in the Ionian

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.

Easter by candlelight

Paxos Springtime

The winter rainstorms in the Ionian are over and there is now an explosion of colour as the Spring sunshine turns warmer and warmer.

Olive grove terraces are filled with fresh bracken, wild gladioli, asparagus and freesias. Roadsides are lined with white convonvulus. Flowering myrtle bushes crowd ancient donkey paths. Inland walks unlock heady aromas of wild herbs crushed underfoot. The sea takes on a more inviting translucency.

Taverna and cafenion tables and chairs are slowly brought outside. Walls of peeling plaster are given a lick of whitewash. The first crop of oranges appear on the grocery shelves.

East coast Paxos

The photo was taken by Alex Watrous just a few days ago on a Paxos walk along the coast.