Get to know Easter traditions of Karpathos

Greek Orthodox Easter is mostly the same in every part of Greece. The most impressive differences in Karpathos are on Holy Friday and Easter Tuesday. Preparations start on Lazarous Saturday.

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Since Holy Monday until Holy Thursday women of the island bake Easter bagels, “poulous”, open “tourtes” (cakes), sweet “tourtes”, “avgoules” and herb pies. All wood-fired ovens are full of bakery products all day and all night.

  • Pouloi: Their other name is “christokouloura”, bread dedicated to Christ. Women make the characteristic “poulos”, i.e. thin, salty “buns” in the shape of “eight”, with a red dyed egg at one end.
  • Open “tourtes”: Open cheese pies with xinogalo (sour milk). Sour milk is a dairy product and is made from various types of milk, sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk. Sour milk is traditionally made from milk during the butter production process.
  • Sweet “tourtes”: Pies in half moon shape, sprinkled with sesame seeds. The dough is stuffed with mizithra (Greek whey cheese or mixed milk-whey cheese from sheep or goats, or both).
  • Avgoules: Bread served on Easter Sunday.They are shaped into round buns or long rolls and rolled in dough. They put the red dyed egg in the middle, like poulous and decorate it with gnocchi, birds, almonds and sesame seeds.
Holy Thursday

Easter festivities basically begin οn Holy Tuesday. The main activity of this day is the painting of the eggs. Orthodox Easter is not possible without red dyed eggs. That is why Holy Thursday is also called Red Thursday. Christian tradition wants eggs, a symbol of fertility and the beginning of a new cycle of life, to be dyed red because they symbolize the Blood of Christ. The first egg that is painted in each house is the one of the Virgin Mary and must not be broken but kept in the iconostasis (screen where Orthodoxs keep their icons) until the next Easter.

On the other hand, there is the tradition of decorating the Epitaph. Young women stay up all night decorating the wooden carved epitaph with all kinds of spring flowers. Usually the flowers are gathered from the morning of Holy Thursday from the gardens and courtyards of the houses in the villages as well as wild flowers from the fields. Women in Olympos place on the Epitaph fresh flower wreaths with photographs of their diseased husbands, sons or brothers, that died that year and a paper with written mantinada (a poem consisting of two lines that are usually fifteen syllables in rhyme or four half-stanzas that are not necessarily rhymed).

Holy Friday

Since noon bells of all churches are ringing mournfully. In Olympos women of all ages dress up with their mournful costumes. On the afternoon of Holy Friday, during matins, lamentations are sung before the Epitaph as at the tomb of Christ, while all hold lighted candles. Near the end of Matins, during the Great Doxology, a solemn procession with the Epitaph is held, with bells ringing the funeral toll, commemorating the burial procession of Christ. After the return of Epitaph to the church women unfold their hair and they start to sing dirges.

Holy Saturday

Women prepare the traditional lamb. They place rice, herbs and pieces of liver in the belly of the lamb and sew it. The lamb is roasted in the wood-fired oven overnight. On the evening of Holy Saturday the whole world gathers in the churches for the resurrection service.

Easter Monday

The most peculiar tradition is held in Spoa this day.  The hole village is separated in two teams, one consisted by women and the other one by men of all ages. It is basically a competition between the sexes.  The two teams pull a rope. When one team manages to throw the other and finally wins, the celebration begins with mantinades.

Easter Tuesday

In the villages of Menetes, Pyles, Olympos and Spoa villagers remove all religious icons from the churches. The place scarves on them and they start a parade. They go through the fields and their first stop is at Eleomonitria spring. There they make a prayer for the drought. On their way back to the churches they pass from the cemetery. The icons pass by each tomb separately, where the women have placed flowers and “tourtes” fro their loved ones. After returning to the village and stopping in every house people gather in front of the church. An auction starts and the ones who bids the most money takes the icon and places it inside the church in its original spot. This particular tradition is held in Arkasa on Easter Monday.

Karpathos has a very large and rich folk culture and still maintains its traditions with great dedication. Learn more about its history in the article History of Karpathos island – the short version.

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