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Megali Evdhomadha (Holy Week) and Pascha (Greek Easter)

The word 'Paska' comes from the verb, 'pascho', to suffer. Pascha is by far the most important and universally celebrated of all Greek religious holidays, and is an occasion on which many urban Greeks return to their native towns or villages to celebrate with relatives, the traditional spitted lamb often locally raised, and eaten with locally produced wine.

Though Christmas (Khristou-genna, literally, Christ's birth) is also celebrated in Greece (and is the occasion for such visits to the home turf), Pascha is definitely the holiest of days for Greeks, and its ceremonies very beautiful. Foreigners wishing to observe the moving rites that precede it should take note of the fact that it occurs on a different date from that of the Catholic Easter, and on a different date each year, usually one or two weeks before or after the Catholic one, though the two have occurred as many as five weeks apart.

It should also be noted that stores, public offices, and businesses are closed on Kali Paraskevi (Good Friday), and often right through the weekend and even through Monday in most places. Some of the popular destinations for foreigners to witness the ceremonies during Pascha are the island of Idhra (Hydra), which claims to have more than 360 churches and monasteries, though accommodation on this island at this time must be booked far in advance. Other well known celebrations at this time are held on Corfu, and in the villages of Pyrgi on Hios island, Olymbos on Karpathos, and at St. John's monastery on Patmos.

The holy color of purple is displayed in bands decorating Greek churches during Megali Evdhomadha and bells toll almost incessantly during this Holy Week. Television is given over the church ceremonies all week as well. Other celebrations, such as weddings, baptisms, and secular events, are prohibited during this week. On Thursday, Christians bow before Christ on the Cross and make offerings of flowers and wreaths. It is also on Holy Thursday that the hard boiled Easter eggs are painted red, these given out on Easter Sunday or baked into twisted sweet bread known as 'tsourekia'. On the evening of Kali Paraskevi (Good Friday), the moving ceremony of the Epitafios (funeral bier) symbolizing the funeral of Jesus Christ, is held, beginning with the lamentation in church for the Descent from the Cross. At dusk, the Epitafios, adorned with flowers, is carried in procession through the streets of the town. If there are many churches, there may be many such processions, each with its own Epitafios. On the island of Idhra (Hydra), the epitafios is carried into the sea to bless its waters.