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Susie Atsaides




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Greek Surperstitions

Village Superstitions

Greek Traditions - Spring and Easter Celebrations

Spring, in Greece, is the time of year that we celebrate quite an array of Holidays. It all starts with the Season of ‘Apokries’ or what you would call Carnival and Mardi Gras.

The season of the Great Lent begins with Clean Monday and ends with Good Saturday. It lasts for 7 weeks, including Holy Week for the Greek Orthodox Church, different from the Roman Catholic Church, which celebrates Lent for 6 weeks.

Clean Monday marks the start of the great 48-day fast for Lent or ‘Sarakosti’ and Holy Week – ‘Megalo Eudomada’. All this builds up into the feast of Easter, ‘Lambri or Pasca’, which is determined by the Julian Calendar and is the most celebrated holiday for the Greek Orthodox people.

Greek traditions and customs vary not only from Island to Island but from village to village as well. I’ve given you just a taste of what goes on here in Rhodes. Many of these rituals this time of year, are religious ones, closely related or have roots to the teachings of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Kales Apokries, Kali Sarakosti, ke Kalo Pasca (Happy Carnival, Good Lent, and Happy Easter)

Susie Atsaides

Index on this Page

Easter Monday - Deutera tou Pasca
All Soul’s Day - Psihosavato ‘Tomb’ of Christ - Epitaphios
Carnival - Apokries Cemeteries
‘Burnt’ Thursday - Tsikno Pempti Iconostasio
Clean Monday - Kathari Deutera Fasting - Nistia
Feamarch Bracelet -Martisst of Lazarou -tou Lazaroy Memorial Wheat - Koliva
Easter Preparations May Day - Proto Magia
Palm Sunday - To Vagion Easter Eggs - Pascalina Auga
Holy Thursday - Megali Pempti March 25th Greek Independence Day
Good Friday - Megali Paraskevi Annunciation of the Virgin Mary - O Evagelismos
Holy Saturday - Megalo Savato
Easter Sunday - Lambri - Pasca

Links to Recipes Pages

Lent Recipes Easter Recipes
Taramosalata / Tarama (Roe) Salad Magiritsa / Easter Soup
Soupies Giahni / Stewed Cuttlefish Lambriatiko / Easter Stuffed Lamb
Oktapodi me Macaronaki / Octopus with Macaroni Arni Souvlas / Lamb on a Spit
Makaronia Nistisima / Lenten Spagetti Tsoureki / Sweet Easter Bread
Fanouropita / St. Fanourios' Cake Avgoules / Easter Cookies


March Bracelet / Martis

On March 1st, it is customary for mothers to braid bracelets for their children. These bracelets are called ‘Martis’. They are made of red and white string and are tied onto the wrists of the children.

The superstition is that the children wear these bracelets so that the sun of early spring doesn’t burn their cheeks. The bracelet is red and white, symbolic of rosy cheeks yet a white complexion.

The bracelets are worn until the Midnight Mass of the Greek Orthodox Easter. When the traditional bonfires are lit, the bracelets are removed and thrown into the fires.


All Soul’s Day - Psihosavato

The Saturday before Pentecost is called ‘Psihosavato’ or ‘All Soul’s Day’. It is the day that the dead are remembered in Church services and memorials. Families will give the priest lists of names of the deceased and he will read them out loud in church as part of the service. During the special services ‘Koliva’ are handed out to all those in attendance.

On this evening, people will dress up in their masquerade costumes and go from house to house as this also marks the eve of the Apokries or Carnival.


Carnival - Apokries

Before the season of Lent, there are the Apokries. For the duration of Lent through Holy Week, weddings, parties, festivals and celebrations come to a stop. Because there are many days of deprival through the fasting season, and Greeks being the party people that they are, they use the three weeks prior to lent to ‘lift up’ their spirits.

The three-week period of Apokria consists of three feasts that are most celebrated on the Sunday of the week. The first one is called ‘Protofoni’ or ‘First Voice’. It’s given the name because some one in Greek Lore kept saying or voicing that the Apokries are here. The only day of fasting this week is Friday since it precedes ‘Psihosavato’ – ‘All Souls Day’ and Lenten dishes are prepared.

The second feast is ‘Kreatini’ or ‘Meat Filled’ because during this week, it is allowed to eat meat on Wednesday and Friday.

The Third feast is called ‘Tirini’ or ‘Cheese Filled’. As the name suggests, cheeses are eaten throughout this week and in most villages, lots of pasta too. On the Sunday of this week – the last day before Clean Monday, we fast from meats but can still enjoy the Cheeses and dairy products.

Through the entire Apokries, people go to visit each other at their homes, playing games, singing songs and telling jokes. Prudity and modesty are put aside and good fun with good company prevails. Balloons and streamers are decorated everywhere and it’s not uncommon to walk down the street and get a face full of paper confetti. It’s a time of happiness and celebration.

Adults and children alike, dress up in costumes of one kind or another. You will even find old women that will hang veils over their faces or smear themselves with ashes from the fireplace just to spook the younger children. At night, the maskers take to the streets, singing, playing practical jokes and just plain having fun. The bars, clubs and restaurants this time of year, are full of people in costumes and quite often you won’t recognise who you’re talking to.

The last night of Apokria is the most celebrated and bonfires are lit in the streets. The maskers sing songs and dance around them. When the flames die down, some of the braver folk will jump over the fire to ‘burn the fleas off’.

Some villages hold the tradition that the man of the house secure a boiled egg on the end of a string and rhythmically swing it into the open mouths of the family members. This is done so that ‘ With the egg we close our mouths and with the egg we open them again’ – the coming of Easter and Easter eggs.

It is also said that on this last night of Apokria, the younger members of the family should genuflect before the elders and ask for forgiveness for whatever sins they might have committed. This leaves their hearts ‘Clean’ to celebrate the next day, which is Clean Monday.

All areas of Greece hold parades that are lavish extravaganzas. Perhaps the most famous is the Carnival of Patra on the mainland. Some people say that the rituals of Apokries or Carnival have Pagan roots. I don’t know about that, but I will say that Apokries in Greece are a wonderful, magical time for the young and old.




‘Burnt’ Thursday - Tsikno Pempti

The Thursday of the second week of Apokries is known as ‘Tsikno Pempti’ or ‘Burnt Thursday’. It is traditional on this day to cook foods and let them char or burn so that the smell is carried out through the village. Charcoal pits burn bright on this day as most homes have barbecues and maskers of all ages visit each other. It is also a night filled with laughter and practical jokes.


Clean Monday - Kathari Deutera

Clean Monday is the first day of ‘Sarakosti’ or the season of Lent. For a Greek Orthodox observer, it marks the beginning of the great fast. On this day, families will picnic in the country or beaches. The picnics are simple affairs with everyday utensils and colourful tablecloths laid next to pits that have been dug to house hot charcoals to cook over.

The foods for this day are ‘Nistisima’ or Lenten and contain ‘no blood’. Fresh and pickled vegetables, salads of all kinds, Laganes (a bread), shellfish, octopus and squid as well as Halva make up the menu. Meat, fish and dairy products are not allowed. Children and adults play games and fly kites, as it is the tradition for Clean Monday. (See Recipes  Fasting  Back To  Carnival ) 


Feast of Lazarus – Toy Lazarou

The day before Palm Sunday is the feast of Lazarus. It memorialises his resurrection and special church services are said on this day. It is also celebrated as a symbolic day for the coming of spring.

In the villages, children will dress as ‘Lazarus’ in white sheets and wear daisy garlands around their necks and in their hair. They go through the streets singing traditional songs for the day and go house to house with baskets, collecting gifts of cookies, cheese, Easter eggs and candy.

This is also the Name Day for all those named Lazarus.


Easter Preparations

The season of Lent and Easter is a time when all village housewives will ‘spring clean’ their homes and properties. Houses and streets are given new coats of white wash and homes are cleaned from one end to the other. This is also the time of year that the men will begin the chore of tilling their land, pruning their fruit and olive trees as well as sowing their summer vegetables.

In days gone by, Easter was one of the holidays that every member in the family got a new outfit and a new pair of shoes – Christmas being the other. Although we now live in times of abundance, it is still customary for families to buy new outfits and shoes for Easter and wear them to Church for the Resurrection and on Easter Sunday.

The Godparents of children will also purchase them gifts of clothing and bring them to the house at the end of Holy Week. The mothers will make the Godparents or ‘Koumpari’ Easter Baskets filled with home-made Easter cookies, Tsourekia, Avgoules and dyed eggs. (See Recipes)


Palm Sunday – To Vagion

‘ To Vagion’ or Palm Sunday precedes Holy Week and commemorates Jesus Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem. After the liturgy, pieces of palm leaves that have been braided and tied into crosses are handed out to all those in attendance. These crosses take their place in the Iconostasio when they get home. Palm Sunday is day of fasting from meats and dairy products. Traditionally, fish are eaten.

This is also the Name day celebration for all those named ‘Vagianos’. I’ve tried to find the English/Latin equivalent and the name ‘Palmer’ seems to have the same meaning as ‘one bearing palms’.


Holy Thursday - Megali Pempti

Early on this day, the Greek women will begin their Easter preparations by dying their eggs. Traditionally, Greeks dyed only red coloured eggs to symbolise Christ’s blood, but as modern times have come, we too dye an assortment of colours.

On Holy Thursday Night the Church will read twelve excerpts of the four gospels relating Christ’s Passion in a long and solemn mass. After the first six are read, a large wooden cross with a carved statue of Christ is brought out and placed in front of the altar. With this symbol of Christ’s hanging, the next six excerpts are read.

Since this day is symbolic of Christ’s death, the village women will mourn all through the night. Spending the night in church, in silent prayers until dawn break.


Good Friday - Megali Paraskevi

Throughout Greece, Good Friday is known as the day of mourning. It is the only day of the year that the Divine Liturgy will not be celebrated.

During the Lamentation Service, the priest and choir chant Byzantine hymns around the ‘Epitaphio’ or ‘Tomb of Christ’. This is used in the Greek Orthodox Churches to symbolise the bier of Christ and is adorned with a multitude of flowers on this day.

During this service, the priest will remove the symbolic wooden figure of Christ from the wooden cross in front of the altar. This figure is then covered with a sheet and kept in sanctuary for 50 days when it will be taken out for the Pentecost and returned to it’s original position.

The Epitaphio is taken out of the church and carried by men through the village to the cemetery and back, with a slow procession of priests and altar boys carrying gold crosses and Icons. The church congregation follows, holding lit candles symbolising the mourners. The chants are sad and solemn and the Church bells will ring slow and rhythmically as they do when signalling a funeral.

After the procession returns to the church, the followers walk past (and under) the Epitaphios, kissing the image of Christ which is laid upon it.


Holy Saturday "Megalo Savato

If you watch Greek Television on Holy Saturday afternoon, it is most likely that you will see the arrival of a Greek Military Jet carrying the Eternal Flame from Jerusalem. Multitudes of Priests wait with their lanterns at the airport for its arrival to take this ‘light’ to their churches.

Everyone in Greece, young through old, attend the Resurrection service for Easter. Shortly before midnight, the churches are filled to overflowing and most of the congregations stand outside in the courtyards. Facing the altar, they silently pray while holding unlit candles.

Just before midnight, the church will turn off all it’s lights - except for the Eternal Flame that is inside the Altar. Everything is dark and the congregation is silent, symbolising the darkness and silence of the tomb.

When the clock strikes midnight, the priest lights his candle from the Eternal Flame and sings out ‘Christos Anesti’ - ‘Christ is risen’. Holding his lit candle out, he offers the flame to the congregation that is closest to him. After lighting their own candle, they pass the flame back to others so in a few minutes the entire church and courtyards are filled with flickering candle light. While doing this, the Byzantine Chant ‘Christos Anesti’ is sung by all in attendance.

At midnight, everything around comes alive. Buildings are floodlit, sirens wail from the ships and the church bells begin to ring continuously. Villagers fire their shotguns into the air and the more modern city folk set off fireworks. As the congregation leaves the church, with their candles still lighted, the priest gives each one of them a dyed red egg.

Near the church courtyards, huge bonfires are lit, where the people mingle around saying ‘Christos Anesti’, which the reply to is ‘Alithos Anesti’ – ‘He is truly risen’. The children joyously throw their ‘March Bracelets’ into the fires as the adults talk and cheer. And it’s common to be challenged to ‘Tsoungrisoume’ the Easter egg that you got from church. It is one fantastic celebration.

The candles are handled carefully so they stay lit until the people get home. Before entering their homes, the Greeks make the sign of the cross with the lit candle over the doorframe. The smoke will leave the mark of the cross. This sign stays there all year through and means that the spirit of the Resurrection has been brought into the house.

The burning candles are then used to light the lantern at the ‘Iconostasio’ and set on the table to enjoy with the late dinner. The Resurrection Meal traditionally consists of Mageritsa Soup, Tsourekia and Easter Cookies.  (See Recipes)


Pascca Lmbri " Pasca EASTER Sunday

Easter Sunday is a holiday that is spent with family, relatives and friends. The meal is usually a communal affair with roasting lamb turning over open pits.(See Recipes)  Some women will bring pots of ‘Lambriotis’. This is a dish of stuffed goat or lamb that has been cooking overnight in the village wood coal ovens.

Tables are decorated with colourful cloths and fresh spring flowers as well as baskets of dyed eggs for ‘Tsoungrisma’. Since this is the biggest celebration of the year for the Greeks, there is lots of Ouzo, Retsina and village Suma or Raki (Greek Moonshine) to drink. Of course, no Greek party would be complete without the traditional Bouzouki music and the Greek dancing.

Greeks celebrate life to it’s fullest and Easter is a very good example of that. It would not be uncommon for a tourist couple or passers by to be invited to join in the meal and festivities, as this culture is very generous and open hearted. And even though she probably doesn’t speak your language, you would find some old Greek village woman motioning for you to come and enjoy a glass of Ouzo with her.


Easter Monday / Deutera tou Pasca

The entire week of Easter Monday through Friday is a holiday. Each day a different Monastery is visited honouring a different Saint. Friends and families gather together for dinners and dances. The celebration of the Resurrection continues until the Holiday of the Virgin Mary on Friday night, when the biggest parties are held.


‘Tomb’ of Christ - Epitaphios

The Epitaphios is used to symbolise the bier of Christ during the Holy Week services of the Greek Orthodox Church. It resembles a large table with a domed canopy built over it and it is adorned with intricate filigree that carpenters have painstakingly carved out. In each of its four corners, wooden handles extend so that it can be carried.

On Megali Paraskevi - Good Friday, the Epitaphios is decorated with hundreds and hundreds of flowers, usually carnations. Their stems are pushed through the filigree, inside and out and they are secured next to each other so no wood is seen. It really is a beautiful sight and the fragrance is unbelievable.

Laid in the center of the Epitaphio is a special cloth that has been elaborately embroidered with the image of Christ, symbolising his dead body. The parishioners file past the symbolic tomb and kiss this cloth.

You may also see some young and maybe some not so young, children and folk crawling under the Epitaphio to the other side. This is done because it is considered a blessing to pass under it.



Easter is a time that all the dead are memorialised. From the time of Carnival and All Soul’s Day through Good Saturday and the Resurrection, all Greeks go to the cemeteries to visit their deceased loved ones. It is customary to take flowers and light the lanterns on the memorials of the dead.

You will find that the Greek village cemeteries are filled with Pine trees. Pine is considered a holy tree for its beauty and respect to the sleeping dead. It stands straight and it’s leaves or foliage makes no noise.



In every Greek home, you will find a corner – most likely in the master bedroom, with an Iconostasio. This is a shelf that houses Icons, various holy items and an oil-candle, which is never left to go out.

The Icons are usually of the Saints’ whose names are in the family and of Christ and the Virgin Mary. You will find sprigs of dried basil, olive or rosemary, burnt candles, vials of holy water and holy oil as well as ‘Stefania’ or ‘wreaths’ from the owners’ wedding. Any item that is considered blessed and holy takes its place here.

The ‘Kantili’ or lantern is usually nothing more than a glass filled with water and olive oil with a ‘fitili’ or wick floating on it. The Kantili is lit with the ‘Light of the Resurrection’ from Good Saturday, and is never left to go out. The Greek housewives diligently check the oil level and refill it as needed.

In the more modern houses, the Iconostasio as a shelf is non existent, but you will find that there is a wall somewhere in the house that is dedicated to this purpose and has the Icons hanging on it.


Fasting - Nistia

There are different kinds of fasts for the Greeks. Some are days of no meat while others strictly prohibit eating dairy products as well. There is also some confusion when it comes to fasting. Villagers have told me that it’s all right to eat olives but you shouldn’t eat olive oil. Also, as in Clean Monday, you can eat shellfish and molluscs and fish roe, but you can’t eat fish.

The Greek Orthodox Church prescribes fasting for the entire duration of Lent. Most of the newer generation Greeks fast only during the last two weeks before Easter, Holy Week being the most severe.

Fridays and Wednesdays are the exceptions. Most Greeks will fast on those days year through not eating meat or fish.

Back To:   Carnival     Palm Sunday


Memorial Wheat - Koliva

The Greeks honour their dead with memorial services throughout the year, but Easter is a time when all the dead are remembered. Cemeteries are visited and the names of the deceased are read out loud in church. When a memorial service takes place, Koliva are blessed by the priest and given out to the congregation in memory of the deceased.

Koliva are whole-wheat kernels that have been boiled and sweetened. Fruits, nuts, Jordan almonds and spices are added to it and it is mounded onto a silver tray. The sign of the Cross is made with silver dragees in the center. On one side of the Cross, you will see the letters:



Which means, ‘Jesus Conquers’ and on the other side of the Cross, are the initials of the deceased.

The eating of Koliva at church is to remember the departed soul and to pray for their forgiveness. Wheat, raisins and pomegranate seeds are usually amongst the ingredients. They symbolize the resurrection and the sweetness and abundance of life.

The Memorial services are usually performed at the end of the Sunday liturgy and the blessed Koliva are put into small bags and handed out to the parishioners as they leave.

Back To:  All Soul's Day


Fanouropita - St. Fanourios’ Cake

One rather common superstition that is closely followed here in Rhodes, is that when you have a problem or a question you can ask for St. Fanourios for help and to ‘Fanerose to’ or to ‘show you’ the answer. It is generally used in cases when you need to see or find something. For instance finding lost keys, seeing a good report from a doctor or having a lost love come to redeem him/herself.

I’ve tried to get more information about St. Fanourios himself, but not much is known about the Saint. His Icon was found in Rhodes in the 14th century. He was dressed in military clothing and carrying a cross. I can only assume that he was one of the Crusaders of the era that protected the Mediterranean. His Name Day is celebrated on August 27th.

According to Greek lore, he will show you the answer to your problem or question if in return you offer him a cake and ask God to forgive his mother and rest her soul in peace. It is unclear as to why we ask for his mothers’ forgiveness. Some stories say that she was a sinner of some sort, others that its only spoken out of respect as Greeks always ask God to forgive and rest a soul in peace when they refer to the dead.

The Fanouropita is not just any cake. It is made completely out of fasting ingredients and contains no dairy products. While you’re making this cake you keep in mind the problem at hand or the question that you wish an answer to.

After it is baked, the cake must be given to at least 7 different houses. In other words, people from at least 7 different families have to eat it. Of course, after meeting the 7-house requirement, you and your family can have some too. None of this cake can be thrown away; all of it has to be consumed.

When you have given your 7 different friends a slice of this, each individual has to say these words out loud before taking the first bite. "May God forgive St. Fanouris’ mother and rest her soul in peace". This is the only prayer that has to be said, and after those words are spoken, you can enjoy the cake. You will get an answer to your problem or question within time.

I have also been told that some villages have a variation to this superstition. The 7 different houses have to be women by the name of ‘Mary’ or a derivative of it. I’ve always just kept the 7 house standard, but if you do know 7 different ‘Marys’, it couldn’t hurt.

See Recipes


Easter Eggs – Pascalina Auga

On Holy Thursday, eggs are traditionally dyed a deep red colour. They are used for decorating the Easter breads and a bowl is kept for the house. I have been told that beets were used in the old days to boil with the eggs to get the red colour. In some of the more creative villages, onions and dandelions were used for yellow, and grasses were used for greens, though that strayed somewhat from tradition. In our modern times, most of the Greeks use the packets of store bought dyes and don’t stick to just red either.

During Easter week, housewives make their Greek Easter baskets, which consist of dyed eggs, traditional cookies and maybe a few candies. These are given to friends, relatives, Godparents and neighbours.

After the Resurrection Mass and on Easter Sunday, children and adults will challenge you with the question ‘Na Tsoungrisoume?’ - ‘Shall we crack them?’ This tradition is still very much enjoyed throughout Greece. You can use the egg that you got from the Church service or you can choose one from the basket of dyed eggs that is left for the house. You hold the egg in your fist with one end exposed. The other person does the same, and then you tap them together. Who ever ends up with the cracked egg is the loser.

I have seen families go through dozens of eggs in a matter of minutes, smashing one end and then the other. Greeks are always hunting for the ‘hardest’ egg to ‘Tsoungrisoune’ with each other and it’s not uncommon to end up with a basket of cracked and smashed eggs.

Back To:  Carnival     Easter Preparations


Annunciation of the Virgin Mary – O Evagelismos

March 25th Greek Independence Day

March 25th marks the celebration of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary or ‘O Evangelismos’. Special church services are performed in tribute of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel.

It is also Greek Independence Day. After the liturgy, special prayers are said to God for liberating the Greeks from the Ottoman Turks in 1821. Although this day falls within the Lenten period, the church allows fish and seafood to be eaten because of the celebration of Liberty.



May Day - Proto Magia

The 1st of May is traditionally seen as a celebration of spring and fertility and it’s considered ‘Labor Day’ for the Greeks. Greek families will take their picnics out to the country where the children will play and pick wild flowers – the first spring blooms. The flowers are then braided carefully into wreaths of all sorts of sizes to be taken home and adorn their front doors. Some Islanders, particularly Taxi drivers’ even hang them on the grills of their cars. The wreaths remain in place until the Feast of St. John on August 29th, when they are burned in the great bonfires of the festival.


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