Monday, April 21, 2014

Good Friday and Easter Holy Week Celebrations in Athens, Greece

It was fun to be in Athens for Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Good Friday!  Easter is the biggest holiday of the year in the Greek Orthodox Church and the city celebrates will all kinds of events.
To start, you'll find red and green decorations (the colors of Easter here) all over the place. Markets sell red egg dye, red eggs baked into loaves of bread and boiled eggs already dyed bright red. The red eggs are used for a "survival of the fittest" Easter game. You'll find hollow chocolate eggs of all sizes, mostly like a small football, for sale.  Decorated candles and lanterns are also sold in all kinds of boutiques.

On Palm Sunday, locals stop into church and pick up olive or bay branches to carry around for the day. A few small grandmothers stopped to (I think) wish me happy Palm Sunday on the way in and out of churches.  The rest of the week is pretty mellow with people fasting and preparing to head out to their villages. Museums and sights are open, but sometimes with reduced hours.

Good Friday starts quietly, most stores don't open until noon and museums are free in the afternoon. It's a great time to explore the city with little traffic. Locals seem to spend the afternoon shopping and buying food for the weekend events. Unlike Ireland, they do sell alcohol on Good Friday in Athens. At dusk, it's time to get long beeswax taper candles ready and head to a church for processions. If you don't already have a candle, gypsy kids will sell you one for a Euro.
There's solemn chanting and bells from inside the church while you wait with the crowd outside. It's supposed to be a mournful event, but its hard to get a big group of Greeks together without lots of excited chatting. Everyone is groups of friends and family. Eventually, the priests come out leading a procession with a cross, incense and Epitaph covered in fresh flowers. Candles are lit from person to person and you start walking (surprisingly fast) through the streets.
I'm still amazed that no one's hair catches on fire during the processions. There are occasionally traffic jams as you cross paths with other churches on the narrow stone streets.
We hopped from procession to procession toward the end. At one of the larger churches, we stopped to hear the chanting and see the Epitaph return back inside. You can watch a short video of it on my Instagram here. 
Processions start about 9:00 pm and end around 10:30 when everyone wanders back home with their lit candles. There are only a few bakeries still open, but we managed to find one and bought fruit hand-pies to eat on the walk home.

Next, a recap of the (quite literally) explosive Easter Saturday events on Corfu.

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