The lack of chocolate eggs, Peeps, and bunny costumes isn't the only difference between the Greek version of Easter and the American version. The holiday is celebrated on different days as well.
In Greece, Easter trumps Christmas as the biggest religious holiday of the year and there's an entire week leading up to the main event. So, before planning your springtime trip to Greece, familiarize yourself with the customs of this holiday and how they differ from those in the States.
How is Greek Easter Determined?
Like in America, Greek Easter takes place on a Sunday, but the date is governed by a rather complex system that is determined by three primary conditions: It must be based on the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar that Roman Catholics and Protestants follow; it must be after the Jewish holiday of Passover; and it must be on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox in late March.
Alternatively, Western Easter is determined by a different set of calculations based on the current Gregorian calendar created by Pope Gregory. Under the Gregorian system, the holiday can actually fall in March, which would not happen under the Julian-based method of calculating Easter.
That being said, the Great and Holy Pascha, as the Greeks call it, can sometimes fall on the same day as Western Easter, but only by pure and unlikely coincidence.
The week leading up to Easter Sunday in Greece is called Holy Week. or Megali Evdomada. It starts with Palm Sunday (the day that commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem) and ends with the traditional Easter feast seven days later. On Thursday of Holy Week, tsoureki (Easter bread) is baked and eggs are dyed deep red. On Saturday, the last day of Lent, a traditional soup called magiritsa is prepared for the midnight feast, which typically takes place after the evening church service.
Differences in Traditions
Whereas American Easter is often celebrated with candy, pastels, and bunnies, Greek Easter traditions include lamb (the meat, not the cartoon-shaped chocolates), braided butter cookies called koulourakia, and only the color red. While Holy Week doesn't necessarily grant time off work, it is widely celebrated in Greece (shops have different hours, restaurants serve special menus, and church is attended every night of the week).
Tips for Visiting Greece During Easter
Asking any local about Easter events or specials will almost always default to an answer on Greek Easter rather than American Easter, so if you're looking to celebrate the Western holiday, be sure to specify. Keep in mind that many shops who are not closed will have irregular schedules as the locals spend time with their families and attend church.
Easter is a festive time in Greece, so join in on the local traditions. Be on the lookout for post-Mass fireworks in the cities. Sample the customary cuisine. And if you decide to attend a service, note that some churches require women to wear scarves over their hair.