Travellers to any Orthodox country this week will be surprised to see that preparations for Easter are in full swing.
Whilst back at home Easter with its Easter eggs, hot cross buns and newly born chicks is now a distant memory, countries like Cyprus, Greece, the Balkan states, Russia and others are counting down the days to the big event.
In the Orthodox calendar, Easter is always a bigger event than Christmas as you’ll know if you’ve ever been to Greece or Cyprus at Christmas and wondered if they’ve heard of the occasion. At Easter though, the streets are festooned with lights, there are giant fibreglass chickens and eggs and whole communities come out on Easter Sunday to celebrate.
So why is the date of Orthodox Easter often so different from the Western Church? Apparently it has to do with the use of two different calendars. The Western Church uses the Gregorian calendar whilst the Eastern Church uses the Julian calendar. Both have the same number of months, days, leap years etc. and calculate the date in the same way – it’s the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Apparently, why they differ is because when the followers of the Gregorian discovered that a year wasn’t exactly 365 days and introduced the leap year, they adjusted their calendar whilst the followers of the Julian calendar didn’t so, for example, the 21st March in the Gregorian calendar is actually the 3rd April in the Julian calendar.
What it means is that in some years, Easter holidaymakers have the double benefit of celebrating the occasion at home whilst looking forward to a sunshine holiday where they can celebrate Easter all over again.
If you’re one of the lucky ones this Orthodox Easter, take the time to go to the local events. They usually begin with a procession of a highly decorated coffin through the streets on Saturday evening. This is followed by a midnight mass service on Easter Saturday during which, at midnight, the priest will come out from behind the screen of icons with a lit candle and the flaming light is passed from candle to candle throughout the church. People then spill out into the street and watch an effigy of Judas being burned on a bonfire. After a lie in on Sunday morning, a festival of local food, dancing, music and poetry all tied together with traditional hospitality, often takes place in the community square to which all are invited.
Have a great time – and of course a Happy (2nd) Easter!