The Greeks celebrate Easter with more gusto than we do in England. For Greeks Easter is a more important festival than Christmas.

  • check the dates of Greek Easter - the dates are usually different to the dates of western Easter (although every few years the dates do coincide).
  • many Greeks travel to their ancestral islands for Easter - so be prepared for busy and perhaps full ferries. There are likely to be extra ferries laid on in the run up to Easter, and some services cancelled on the Saturday and Sunday. Sometimes I have noticed that the last ferry in on Easter Saturday stays in port for sometime, and the crew bring their families on board foe the holiday trip. One Easter I spotted a lamb being roasted by the crew on a ferry car deck when the ferry was in port. There are usually signs in the car deck saying that smoking is prohibited, but there is obviously no restriction on roasting the Easter lamb. I have also seen firecrackers let off in a car deck. With the car ramp down, islanders amble on and off the ferry as if it was a temporary extension to the harbour side.

The detail of the celebrations will vary from place to place, but this is an outline of what to watch out for.

  • Good Friday. Christ's tomb, the epitafios, will be carried in a procession. Try to find out where and when, and join on at the end. I have found that the procession usually takes place in the early evening, after dark. You may find the route followed strewn with herbs, releasing a lovely smell as you walk over them. Householders may stand by their doors greeting the procession, and with houses decorated with candles and incense.
  • Easter Saturday. There will be a church service, culminating at midnight with cries of 'Christ is risen' and often fireworks. Take along a candle, everyone lights one after (and sometimes during) the service. How long the candle stays alight depends on the wind! Note that Greeks take along decorated candles. Before I realised this, I went along carrying a basic white candle I had bought from a hardware shop! Candle wax drips, so take something along to protect your candle carrying hand. Islanders improvise various holders. Not elegant, but I have worn a sock as a makeshift glove for my candle-carrying hand! Greeks traditionally eat mayiritsa (a soup made of minced lambs' entrails) after the midnight service. I am sure that the soup is delicious, but I have not been tempted to try it!
  • Easter Sunday. Lamb is traditionally eaten for lunch. See if there is any public lamb roasting going on near where you are staying. One Easter Sunday a small Greek cruise ship was moored on the Greek island where I was staying. The local council provided for everyone, islanders, Greek visitors and tourists a most memorable lunch of roast lamb, and later local folk music.

Monasteries and walking with icons. Check if there are any local Easter activities, especially if there is a monastery on the island. Monks sometimes walk with icons around an island - and participating in these walks is great fun. You get to meet the local people, and see parts of the island you might not otherwise have seen. And residents en route may provide refreshments for the pilgrims.