If you arrive in Greece for your Easter holiday hoping to experience the extravagant traditions of Pascha, or Greek Easter, you may find you've arrived too early. Unlike the Catholics and Protestants, who adhere to the universal Gregorian calendar, Orthodox sects use the Julian calendar which differs by 13 days. This means, with shifting Easter dates each year, the holiday can sometimes occur on the same day for all sects, or up to as much as five weeks apart. It's also important to note that a few customs of Greek Orthodox Easter differ vastly from those celebrated in Western cultures. If you have your heart set on an Easter trip to Greece, research its dates and Greek traditions—like their pre-Lent Carnival festivities—well in advance to help you better plan. And note, some Greek businesses and museums close for the holiday during this time of year.
|Dates of Western and Orthodox Easter|
|Year||Western Easter||Orthodox Easter|
|2021||April 4||May 2|
|2022||April 17||April 24|
|2023||April 9||April 16|
|2024||March 31||May 5|
|2025||April 20||April 20|
|2026||April 5||April 12|
|2027||March 28||May 2|
|2028||April 16||April 16|
|2029||April 1||April 8|
|2030||April 21||April 28|
Western vs. Orthodox Easter
Western Easter and Greek Orthodox Easter differ in many ways, but the dates of observation are the most apparent variation. The main reason for this difference is that Western Easter uses the calendar introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582 to determine the date of the celebration of Christ's resurrection. In contrast, the Greek Orthodox follow the older Julian calendar, which dates back to the era of the Roman Empire.
The other differences between Eastern and Western holiday worship are subtle. Unlike Western Christianity, which places the most important holiday church service on Easter Sunday, the Greek Orthodox hold services from Friday through Sunday with "Holy Saturday" weighing in as the most meaningful day of worship.
Easter traditions aren't nearly as commercially-saturated in the Eastern world as they are in the West. Greek Easter traditions don't include chocolate or eggs dyed in pastel colors to symbolize spring. There's also no Easter Bunny who brings baskets filled with goodies and cards. Instead, the Greek Orthodox culture sticks to a more religious interpretation of the holiday, dyeing their eggs red and giving children white candles—usually decorated with colorful baubles—to symbolize the blood of Christ's tomb and his rebirth. Lamb is most always roasted and served on this day, as Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb of God."
Similar to Catholic and other non-Orthodox faiths, the Greek Orthodox Church practices Lent during and the traditional 40 days of fasting leading up to the Holy Week. Then, during the seven days that lead up to Easter, grand celebrations full of tradition are carried out.
Much like Semana Santa in Spain, Holy Week in Greece, for those who practice the Greek Orthodox faith, is a time of reflection, ceremonial processions, and celebratory feasts and parties. During this week, church chandeliers are decorated with black and purple ribbons to honor the mourning of the coming crucifixion of Jesus. On Good Friday, a replica of the tomb of Christ is covered with flowers of various colors. Then, on Holy Saturday, a special midnight liturgy is conducted where the Holy Fire is carried from Jerusalem to Athens and distributed to all the churches in the city and all the attendees of Saturday's midnight mass. The mass is immediately followed by the Anastasi service, where many Greek Orthodox break their fast with the Agape Meal, a communal meal shared by the members of the church's congregation. The feast typically consists of lamb, feta cheese, and a sweet bread known as tsoureki, and is served until the early hours of the morning.
The following morning on Easter Sunday, a massive church service is held around noon, with several smaller services spread throughout the afternoon and evening. Much of the day is spent feasting and celebrating the return of Jesus Christ with family, friends, and fellow Orthodox Greeks. Lamb or goat is skewered and cooked over charcoal and served alongside tsoureki, which contains several ingredients forbidden during the period of Lent, like, eggs, butter, and sugar.