Experience Double the Easter Joy in Santorini: A Guide to Celebrating Orthodox Easter
In 2023 Orthodox Easter comes one week after the Catholic one and will take place on April, 16th.
Take your chance to celebrate Easter twice this year, coming for the second one to Santorini!
Orthodox Easter is truly a unique time to visit our beautiful island belonging to the Cyclades.
Come and share with the locals the biggest celebration of the year!
For us it’s also the beginning of the summer tourist season, when the restaurants, coffee shops, shops and clubs are slowly opening, making the island much more vivid.
After a rainy winter the slopes of the mountains and the valleys get covered with flowers, giving a refreshing note to the whole dramatic landscape of Santorini, especially during the sunrise and the sunset.
The sky is not very clear yet, but spring awakens the vibes of each soul, sending everyone a hope that everything’s going to be fine, and you’ll have the best vacation ever.
We believe that at least once in a lifetime every Christian should travel to Greece during Easter time.
There’s something in the air here that makes you feel a better connection to the rest of the Christian World.
95% of the population of Greece is traditionally Greek Orthodox.
In Santorini and some other places (mainly in the islands) we do have a significant part of Catholics as well, due to the long Venetian rule.
There are several places In Greece with very specific traditions of celebrating Easter and Christian events connected to it.
Every year they attract thousands of Greeks to spend their Easter holidays over there.
One of such places is definitely Santorini.
Santorini lives its own life within the country, making its way of life differ from the rest. Its history has influenced the life of the locals in such a way, that some of our traditions exist only here.
Lazaros Saturday, April 8th, 2023 (a week before Easter)
“To Savvato tou Lazarou”, as we call it in Greek, is very popular in Santorini, especially in some of the villages, like Megalochori and Kontochori.
It’s celebrated on a day before the Palm Sunday and is symbolizing the victory of life over death, going back to the Biblical event when Christ resurrected Lazaros.
The local communities in Santorini make a huge cross from the boat wood and decorate it with the palm leaves, rosemary and flowers. People are visiting churches in the morning.
Pam Sunday, April 9th, 2023 (a week before Easter)
On that day the churches are decorated with the palm leaves by their communities, everyone goes to the church and receives as a blessing a small cross made out of the palm leaves (we call them “vaghia”).
We keep it for a year for good luck and as a protection from the evil in our houses and cars, some even carry it with them in their handbags.
The holy week
As in the whole Christian world, the holy week is the saddest time.
A huge number of Greeks is fasting the whole period, and nearly the whole country does it on a holy week.
In the morning you can see people with koulouria around (a type of bagels with sesame seeds), buying them from a bakery or from a street seller.
The church bells are ringing sadly all day long, and one can hear their tragic voice all over the island.
The churches are in mourning colors inside (black and violet).
Good Friday is the most remarkable day during Easter time in Santorini.
In Greece in general on that day almost nobody is working in the morning as it’s considered to be a huge sin.
Everyone is trying to visit a church from the previous night yet or early in the morning.
Even the weather is usually “crying” on that day – it’s not rare to see the cloudy sky or a to feel some drops of rain.
The shops open only after 12.00 – 1 p.m.
The locals are waiting for the evening of the Good Friday with impatience, while thousands or Greeks are running to catch the airplanes and ferries to manage to be in Santorini before the sunset.
It’s hard to understand for the foreigners why they see so many Greeks at the airports and at the ports that day, desperately seeking for a ticket to Santorini, even if the weather is not very friendly.
You know why?
We have a magnificent tradition on that day right after the sunset after the church service!
Good Friday in Pyrgos village, Santorini (this year it’s April, 14th, 2023) - Epitafios
To evidence that event, make sure you are in Santorini at noon on Good Friday and you got to go to Pyrgos village, which is seen from many places of the island as it’s located on the top of the hill.
We are trying to arrive and park in advance in order to avoid the huge car line.
The cars and bikes are parked all around up to SantoWines and even farther.
Remember, it’s a small island with no wide highways!
Make sure you get a big candle with you (you can buy it at the church) going on that procession!
Yep, you can join the locals!
People come out of their houses when the holy procession with Epitafios is passing by, and just join it and walk together.
You’ll be thrilled with this collective mood of the day, it’s getting right into your bones!
By the time of the sunset on Good Friday you can see lots of people in and out of the Venetian castle of Pyrgos village.
The mess is taking place at the old church of Assumption of Virgin Mary, located right on the top of the hill, in the center of the castle.
It’s spreading its wings right from the stairs to hug as many Christians as possible, allowing everyone to admire its remarkable, simple beauty outside and its precious icons and décor inside.
The holy procession starts going outside of the church once it gets dark.
The priests come out first and the chosen locals carry the Epitafios, followed by thousands of people, many with candles in their hands.
As if caused by the God’s will, about twenty thousands of big cans, carefully placed previously by the local chaps all over the village, suddenly turn to firelights!
The cans with real flame inside sparkle everywhere: on the walls of the castle, on the roofs’ tops, on the church domes and just everywhere!
This scenery can be watched from far away, even from Fira, Kontochori village and other places in Santorini! Add to that all the people holding their lit candles, walking with the procession, and you get the scenery you’ll remember forever.
Pyrgos hides many stairs, tough for people with mobility issues, so go to this event only if you’re walking without any problems.
Take your time to take pictures as Pyrgos is gonna be all in lights through the whole night.
Usually about 50 chaps prepare the cans carefully, to be sure they’ll last almost till the morning hours.
And even if you are late, you still can admire the whole unique surrounding, that looks this way just one day a year.
To get back to your resort you’ll need to catch a taxi or a public bus from Pyrgos to your place or the one going to Fira from the crossroad on the way to SantoWines (there’s a bus stop there, but you need to rise your hand to stop it).
If no luck, then walk to Fira to get a ride to your place from there (from a taxi station or a bus station).
Good Friday in Fira town
Didn’t have a chance to go to Pyrgos?
We have a way out for you to guarantee you an unforgettable experience in Santorini on Good Friday anyway!
Say thank you for that to the communities of Fira and Kontochori, arranging a holy procession, which is also rather exciting.
As far as some of the villagers from Pyrgos work or live in Fira or Kontochori, you can easily recognize them!
They place the same kind of cans with light inside right near their place of work or on their house, thus making the whole scenery another attraction of the island lately.
Fira’s holy procession (Epitafios) follows a long route, passing by many hotels and hostels, while the participants are singing the same special holy song all the way.
Definitely, it turned to one more exciting event in Santorini during Easter time.
So, those who wish to avoid the stairs, can come to Fira and walk at least a part of the route with the locals!
Some of us also go for Epitafios to Profitis Ilias Monastery located up on the top of the highest mountain of the island.
The view from there is stunning, plus you’ll drive through Pyrgos to go up and back!
Good Friday in other places of Greece
Couldn’t make it to Santorini this year?
Stay in Athens, Corfu, Chios, Paros or in some big town that evening.
You will be still impressed with the huge Epitafios processions with religious songs and candles, as well as with the unique local traditions one would want to see at least once in their lifetime!
In some areas of Athens and other big towns two or three Epitafios meet together at a crossroad, greet each other and return back to their routes, and this is also extremely impressive scenery for every Christian.
Easter Saturday, April, 15th 2023
On that day the holy light arrives to the Greek churches from Jerusalem.
It comes first to Athens by plane and from there the priests take it all over the country, to every small church.
We gather at the churches closer to midnight or for the whole church service, all dressed up in our best.
A couple of minutes before the midnight the lights at the churches go off, and after the priest says: “Khristos Anesti!”, announcing the resurrection of Christ, everyone answers: “Alithos Anesti!” (or “Alithos o Kirios!”), and the holy light is being spread to everyone, right like in Jerusalem, and all the people are washing their faces and hands with Easter holy light, smiling and kissing each other.
The whole country is united by the biggest event of the year, and light and joy comes into people’s hearts.
Yet before midnight you’d hear lots of fireworks and gunshots everywhere around.
Don’t be scared, it’s a tradition to keep the evil away by the noise!
Advice for the girls: watch your hair at the church and near the candles.
Better cover it or put it together. In most of the churches the priests are giving a little Easter gift to everyone.
Usually it has a red egg inside and a little tsoureki (Easter bread).
Some are staying for the whole mess at the church, but many people, fasting for such a long period of time, take the Easter light home, mark with it the entrance of the house in a cross shape manner - for the protection and as a blessing, and then go straight to the taverns to eat the Easter soup “mageritsa”, made with the lamb insides.
Foreigners hardly eat such things, although you may want to taste them.
Have in mind that usual food and meat can be eaten only on Easter Sunday during the day time, not at night yet!
So, if you are not used to such meals, you’d better have something to eat at the hotel, as all the public places serve only this kind of food on that night.
Easter Sunday, April, 16th, 2023 (Orthodox Easter)
From the previous day and from the morning on Easter Sunday the housewives cook and serve the tables waiting for the whole huge family get together or… pay a visit to their relatives or friends, or all together go to a tavern later at midday time.
Men roast the lambs, kontosouvli (pieces of meat) and kokoretsi (the insides of the lamb) on the fire above the charcoal right in the street and along the beachside.
These dishes are the main Easter food, together with the tsoureki (Easter white bread) and the red eggs that people bring to each other – the main symbol of Easter and Resurrection of Christ.
Each tavern and every restaurant is getting ready to welcome thousands of celebrating people.
Mind that churches are closed on Easter Sunday. It is a tradition to exchange good gifts in Easter in Greece – among the members of the families (expensive gifts are usually given), friends and even coworkers.
If you are invited to a house, bring at least the “Easter basket”(tsoureki and the red, hard-boiled Easter eggs can be bought at the supermarkets and bakeries, good wine will be always appreciated as well).
Now you know where to live your unforgettable Easter experience!
Take your chance to spend the holy days in a place that thousands of Greeks and Christians are dreaming of!
We at Omega Travel will gladly accompany you during your tours around Santorini at any time, providing you with the most qualified service.
Book your Santorini tour now and admire our island with us!
Happy Easter, World!