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Apokreas and

....Easter in Greece


  •  Easter does not just happen in Greece on that Holy week. It begins with Apokreas, which is to Orthodox what Mardi Gras and Carnival is to Catholics. Several weeks of partying, a tradition that may go back to the celebrations of Dionysious, take place all over Greece with special celebrations in Patras, Athens, and in various other towns and villages, many with special activities such as the famous Goat dances of Skyros.

  • In Athens the last two weekends of Apokreas people dress up in costume and go to the Plaka, hitting each other with plastic clubs that squeak, and throwing confetti. These clubs are thought to be a remnant of the veneration of the phallus from the ancient Dionysian festivals of Athens and in the town of Tyrnavo in Thessaly giant penises are paraded through the streets.

  • There are celebrations in Moschato and Rendi, between Athens and Pireaus, that are similar to being in New Orleans on Fat Tuesday. In Patras the celebrating goes on for forty days and as many as fifty-thousand people take part in the parades. But after the last weekend of Apokreas, known as cheese week (the week before is meat week) many Greeks begin their fasting on Clean Monday, which is a day for spending time with friends and family, going to the countryside and flying kites. From clean Monday to the week of Easter things calm down conciderably.

Great Week

  •   The week of Easter begins on Palm Sunday and there are church services everyday commemorating the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. The evening services are the most well attended of course, except for Wednesday when the Service of the Holy Unction is held in the afternoon.

On Thursday morning the service commemorates the Last Supper and the Betrayal of Christ. This is the day that the hard-boiled eggs are dyed red, signifying the blood of Christ, and the Easter bread, called tsoureki, is baked.

The evening service is a long one and features twelve gospel readings. It is in this service that a two-dimensional figure of Christ on the cross is brought into the church and set up, while the church bells ring. In some places a vigil is kept in the church all night.

  • From the point-of-view of a spectator from Friday it starts to get very interesting. The nails holding the figure of Christ are knocked off and the figure is taken down from the cross and wrapped in a white cloth. A large piece of cloth, embroidered with the image of Christ, called the epitaphios which has been decorated with flowers by the girls through the night, is brought into the church where it is sprinkled with rose-water and more flower petals are thrown upon it.

  • The bells of the church begin to toll and all the flags in Greece are lowered to half-mast in while women in the congregation weep in mourning for the dead Jesus. In the evening a funeral service is held and at about 9pm the epitaphios is taken from the church and with the bells tolling mournfully, is carried through the streets in a solemn procession. In cities, towns and villages with more than one church the epitaphios parades may join together at certain points.

The resurrection of Anastasis

  •  At 11pm on Saturday night pretty much the entire country is in church. The lights are turned off at midnight and the priest announces that Christ has arisen from the dead as candles are lit from his and then from each other. The tiny glow at the front of the church grows and soon the whole room is illuminated by the light of everyone's candles. At the stroke of midnight the priest intones the paschal hymn "Christ has risen from the dead and in so doing has trampled on death and to those in the tombs he has given life".

  • The church bells ring in celebration, fireworks go off, ships sound their sirens and the light and sound makes the 4th of July seem tame in comparison. People greet each other happily with the words Christos Anesti (Christ has arisen) which is replied to with Alithos Anesti (Truly He has arisen). Then everyone heads for home with their lighted candles where they trace the cross three times above the door and to bless trees and farm animals.

  • Most people either stay home or go to a restaurant for the traditional bowl of margeritsa, a thick green soup made from the intestines of the lamb that will be roasted the next day, breaking their 40 day fast which began with the end of Apokreas. Gunshots, dynamite and fireworks will be going off for the next 24 hours or more shattering nerves and blowing off a finger or two.

Easter Sunday

  •  Easter day is most people's favorite day of the year. A lamb is roasted and friends and families get together to eat, drink, talk and dance. In some towns like Arachova and  Livadeia,  it is a community celebration with rows of lambs roasting in the village square. In other towns like Monemvasia, Rhodes, Hydra, Halkidiki, Koroni, Chania and Leros the effigy of Judas or Barabbas is burned. In Syros and Karpathos people bring their guns and shoot Judas as a scapegoat for society's ills. In the town of Asine in the Argolid they actually have a street battle with the men of the upper and lower parts of the village hurling insults and fireworks at each other. 

  • In southern Messenia people go to the main squares to watch the saetapolemos, which are rockets without sticks that the men hold while the force of the explosions makes them jump as if they are dancing. This practice supposedly goes back to the War of Independence when people of the area fashioned this home-made bombs to scare the horses of the Turks to force their riders to dismount and lose their advantage. During the afternoon the red eggs are brought out and each person takes one and hits their end against someone else's until the last person who has an un-cracked egg is considered the lucky person for the year.

Easter Midnight Soup - (Magiritsa)

Magiritsa is the soup that Greeks break their 40 days fasting with after the midnight liturgy on Easter Saturday.

a lamb's liver, heart, lights and intestines

juice of 3 lemons


6 spring onions, trimmed, rinsed and finely sliced

25 gr. butter

2 cos lettuces, trimmed, shredded and rinsed carefully (use only their young leaves and hearts)

about a teacupful of fresh dill or fennel, rinsed and finely chopped, or parsley

1.2 lt hot water

salt and black pepper

60 gr. rice


2 eggs

juice of 2 lemons


Rinse all the meat. Turn the intestines inside out with the help of a thin stick and rinse them thoroughly. Rub them with salt and lemon juice and rinse them again. Cube them into small portions. In a large saucepan, sautee the onions in the butter, until they start to change colour. Add the chopped intestines, liver, lights and heart, fry together for a few minutes, stirring. Add the shredded lettuces and all the fresh herbs and sautee for a few more minutes. Add the hot water, and seasoning, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Then add the rice and cook for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes, before proceeding with the avgolemono sauce. Add the Avgolemono Sauce to the soup, stirring. Return to a very gentle heat for 2 minutes, stirring at the same time. It should be by now a quite a thick soup.

Easter Lamb on the Spit


  • To serve 6-8 persons, you need a lamb that weights about 5 kg!


  • On Easter Sunday Morning, the fire is started at about 7.00 am to ensure that the wood is reduced to glowing embers by the time the roasting starts. The lamb or goat, having been properly cleaned, is rubbed with lemon all over his skin and seasoned with salt, pepper, oregano and thyme both outside and inside. Then the souvla, the long round iron stick, having also been properly cleaned and rubbed with lemon, is passed through the animal from one end and out through the head. The back feet are secured by passing one through the muscle of the other and are then tied with wire. It is also recommanded to tie with wire the spine of the lamb on the spit. Two iron poles with forked ends are inserted in the earth by the fire. At the beggining of the roasting session the lamb is at about 60-70 cm from the fire. Later the poles are lowered so the meat rests at a distance of 30-40 cm from the fire.

The long iron spit ends in a handle and members of the family take it in turns to sit and turn it almost continually (Now there are machines doing that for us!). While the meat is cooking they brush on a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and oregano. A lamb roasted like this takes about 4 hours or less, presuming that it is of the desirable weight of 5 kgr maximum. It is vital that the lamb cooks very slowly, even if it takes longer than three hours. A clear indication that it is nearly cooked is when the flesh shrinks away from the bones. Please note that the fleshy parts (legs and shoulders) take longer to cook, so they draw most of the glowing embers to the two ends, making two small piles of them under the fleshy parts which gives those parts the extra heat they require, while the thin body is cooking at a slower speed. Serve with a lot of fresh season salad, taramosalata, melitzanosalata and Scarlet Easter Eggs.

Red easter eggs


  • Uncooked eggs

  • Water

  • 3/4 cup Vinegar

  • Red food dye or coloring

  • Vegetable oil

  • A few cotton balls

  • METHOD Carefully wash and dry each egg. Set a large pot of water to boil. Add a red dye or food coloring and 3/4 cup of vinegar to the water, and boil for a few minutes. Slowly lower the eggs into the pot, and when the water comes to a boil, lower the heat. Let eggs simmer for 15 min., then remove them carefully from the pot. If you plan to cook more eggs, add an additional 2 tbs. vinegar to the water. Wipe cooked eggs with an oil-soaked cotton ball, then wipe each egg with a clean dry cloth. Place on a platter. Serve cold.



  • Guts of lamb. You might need guts from more than one lamb. Ask for 2 hearts, 2 spleen, liver and 1 lungs, 2 testicles

  • Bowels (intestines) of lamb. At least 4 are required for a medium size kokoretsi

  • oregano

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Some olive oil


  • Wash the guts very thoroughly and cut them in small pieces. Be careful not to cut them in too small pieces because you will no be able to skewer them. Wash the bowels very carefully and try to clean them from inside. Leave them in a washbowl and keep the ends of each bowel in one side in order to be able to seperate them. Prepare the souvla (iron stick). Start skewering the guts in the iron stick until all are passed to the iron stick. Pin one end of the first bowel in the one side of the souvla and wind the intestine around the skewer. If the bowel reaches its end tie it with the end of the next bowel and continue to wind until all bowels are wrapped and no guts are visible (you should only see the bowels along the souvla). Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Prepare the fire and roast on all sides until guts are brown and crispy. Check that "kokoretsi" is ready and remove from fire. Cut the kokoretsi in cylinders of 5 cm wide in order to remove it from the souvla in pieces. Put in platter, oil the kokoretsi pieces, season with extra salt, pepper and oregano and serve.

Greek Easter Cookies


  • 2 cups butter

  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar

  • 4 egg yolks

  • 1/2 cup milk or orange juice

  • 8 cups sifted all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind

  • 1 egg


  • Sift together flour and baking powder and set aside. In large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add 4 egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each one. Add milk and flour. Work with the hands until dough is smooth. Add grated orange rind. Dough should be stiff so add additional flour if needed. Break off small portions of dough and roll out into pencil-size strips about 11 inches long. Fold each strip into thirds, sideways, and press lightly together at ends. Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet. Brush tops with beaten egg. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 18 to 20 minutes.


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