Easter festivities around the world can be a fascinating way to experience a destination and its culture—whether you’re religious or not. The holiday is especially vibrant in Greece, where Greek Orthodox Easter brings out warm local traditions and excitement about the coming spring. You can find festivities throughout the country, but we spoke with Christos Stergiou, our Trusted Travel Expert for Greece, to get a local’s guide to the best of the holiday, which falls on May 1 this year. Christos grew up in Athensand on the island of Patmos, and has all the scoop.
Why is Greek Orthodox Easter a smart time to visit Greece?
It’s the most sacred and celebrated religious event on the Greek calendar, so there are lots of festivities rich in local traditions, delicious seasonal cuisine, and of course thinner crowds vs. the summer months, mild temperatures, and all of the natural beauty that comes along with spring in the Mediterranean.
Easter Sunday is the culmination of festivities, when the traditional lamb on a spit is made along with other culinary specialties, there’s music and dancing, and traditions are celebrated throughout every village and city in Greece.
What kind of festivities will people see?
What most people don’t know about Easter in Greece is that there are so many festivities that take place in the weeks leading up to Easter Sunday.
Way before Easter, dressing up and dancing in street parades is a big part of the carnival period; this is followed by important traditional days like Tsiknopempti (Barbeque Thursday), which according to religion is the last day that meat is allowed before the 40-day fast of Lent begins, and Kathara Deftera(Clean Monday), which is the first day of Lent when almost everyone (religious and non) eat only the traditional specialties prepared just for this day; the last week of Lent is called Megali Evdomada (Holy Week) and it is considered the most sacred week for the Greek Orthodox church. There are church services every day of this week which means different practices and traditions on each day. It is definitely fascinating to watch and participate in these traditions, including candlelit services and solemn street processions together with hundreds of people.
Where specifically would you recommend travelers experience the holiday?
Although the traditions of Easter take place all over Greece, certain islands and cities are known for their special atmosphere. One of our favorite Easter destinations is the island of Patmos, where visitors are immersed in a deeply spiritual atmosphere and able to participate in a variety of unique traditions.
The locals on Patmos continue to be inspired by the rich history of religion on the island, stemming from the existence of the Cave of the Apocalypse, where St. John wrote the Book of Revelation and the imposing Monastery of St. John, which was constructed by St. Christodoulos in 1088, or the various other monasteries and churches on the island.
What are some of the special events that happen on Patmos?
The festivities on the island are plentiful and start on Palm Sunday (which is the Sunday one week before Easter Sunday).
However, the ceremony that is considered most important takes place on the morning of Maundy Thursday in a square of Hora—the island’s capital—and it is called The Niptiras. The Nipitiras is the representation of the Last Supper where Christ washed the feet of his disciples before his crucifixion, and Patmos is the only place in Greece where that re-enactment takes place.
On Maundy Friday the island’s visitors can enjoy the reenactment of the Deposition from the Cross in the Monastery of St. John, and on the same evening the Epitaph procession to the various churches of the island is walked around the narrow cobbled streets.
All of the processions meet in the central square of Hora and in Skala, the island’s port, and it’s a magnificent coming together of hundreds of people paying their respects to each Epitaph. It’s sure to touch any traveler, regardless of religious belief.
On Easter Saturday, the first Resurrection is announced at 11 am, while the second Resurrection (and most famous) takes place at night in the Monastery of St. John, where locals and visitors gather together with lit candles in order to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ with bell beats and fireworks.
Another highlight of Easter ceremonies in Patmos is the Liturgy of Love, also known as Vesper of Love, held on Easter Sunday at 3 pm at the Monastery of St. John; here visitors have the chance to hear the Book of Revelation in seven different languages.
Finally, on Easter Sunday visitors can immerse themselves in Greek culinary traditions at tavernas around the island.
Since you know Patmos so well, are there any special experiences you can provide for travelers?
Because of my close relationship with Patmos, I have in-depth local knowledge of the island, as well as a network of people who I am able to utilize to make our guests’ experience exceptional.
For example, upon request and subject to non-interference with Easter services, I can arrange a unique experience for our guests to have private access to the Library of the Monastery of St. John, not open to the public. The historic library is considered one of the most important libraries of Christianity. The atmosphere inside the library is one-of-a-kind and can only be felt once you visit it.
Additionally, I can arrange for guests to attend festivities, religious services, or other activities with the locals.
And visitors staying at the Petra Hotel & Suites have the chance to participate in a celebratory feast that takes place at the hotel on Easter Sunday where plenty of food is available in traditional Greek Easter fashion!