By far the most important celebration for the Greeks and known to be one of the richest in folklore, the celebration of Orthodox Easter is unique all over Greece. Specifically throughout the island of Astypalaia, Easter customs become a herald of the spirit’s and nature’s rebirth, while Easter celebrations constitute a vivid and alternative aspect of the folk culture, rich in meaning and symbolism.
The visitors by choosing to celebrate the Orthodox Easter with the locals of Astypalaia, willingly lose themselves into a unique combination of sky and sea, religious devoutness and an alternative way of living.
The Lazarus Saturday precedes Holy Week, with the aromas of cinnamon and clove travelling through the island’s small paved streets and mixing with the salty sweetness of the ocean. These mouthwatering scents come from the freshly baked fasting breads, called lazarakia, which consist of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and are shaped like a human.
Reddish dyed eggs are found in every house on Holy Thursday, while the housewives bake special breads that usually have a round shape, oval or the shape of a basket, decorated with almonds or pecans and a red egg placed in the middle.
Good Friday is known as the day of mourning, the day of the culmination of the passion of Christ with the deposition from the cross and Christ’s burial. In the evening the Epitaph procession takes place, where the symbolic coffin is taken out of the church and carried through the streets by the believers.
On Holly Saturday morning, after the first Resurrection, the housewives throughout the island begin preparing for the Easter feast by baking kitrinokouloura(local cookies), Easter pies and making the stuffing for the roasted goat. When the clock strikes 12 at night, the locals gather and hurl firecrackers at the two main churches, Agios Nikolaos at Gialos and Panagia Portaitissa at Hora, to celebrate the Resurrection and welcome in Easter Sunday. Worth noting is the fact that the two churches compete as to which will have the most impressive fireworks display!
Easter Sunday is a holiday filled with love and joy that is spent with family, relatives and friends. After the morning liturgy, this day at Astypalaia is dedicated to the ‘burning of Judas’ that takes places under the majestic castle of the town. The Easter meal is truly a feast with loads of salads, meat and rice dishes, breads, cakes, cookies, all accompanied with traditional dances and songs.
You have to know the customs and traditions of Astypalaia to be able to fully understand its people. And the most interesting traditions also happen to be the oddest and most alternative. Easter is by far the holiest of Greek holidays, but it is also the most joyous. Greeks celebrate life to its fullest and Easter is a very good example of that.