Easter is the greatest orthodox religious celebration and it is best celebrated in the Greek countryside and in villages, especially if the weather is mild. One of the most traditional Easter celebrations takes place in the village of Kastraki, underneath the monastery complex in the region of Thessaly.
The celebration starts during the Holy Week when all believers experience the awe and the mystic atmosphere which culminates towards the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. All churches are full of people attending the holy mass. But the utmost experience is that of the monasteries of Meteora, where behind closed doors one has the feeling that one is next to God.
On Easter Sunday all Christians experience the joy and happiness because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Kastraki every family, except for those who are in mourn, taste the skewed lamb and the whole village is filled with smoke. Many people have been abstaining from food during the Holy Week or even during the Lent, so they welcome the taste of roast lamb, easter cookies and red hard-boiled eggs that housewives have prepared. The villagers dance special Easter dances at the village green on Sunday morning and the atmosphere is festive.
On Monday it is usually (but not always) the celebration of St. Georgios and a very old custom takes place. Just outside Kastraki there is a very steep rock where St. Georgios used to have his little monastery. When looking from opposite the rock, it looks as if somebody has hung up the laundry in the middle of the rocks. Why? Because on Monday morning young villagers (mostly climbers) climb up the rock and hang handkerchiefs that all villagers give them up the rock. When all the ritual is over climbers dance in the small hole of the rock and sing traditional songs. This custom dates back to the time of the Turkish occupation. A Turkish “aghas” (local leader) was chopping wood at the roots of the rock and was hurt with his own axe. His wife wrapped his foot with her handkerchief and despite the fact that she was muslim, she begged the Christian Saint Georgios to help her husband. When her husband recovered, she donated her handkerchief to the Saint. From then on the custom is repeated every year. And it is pretty amazing that not even once has a climber fallen down.
On Easter Tuesday another very interesting custom takes place. The village church receives and welcomes several holy icons and relics from the monasteries of Meteora. They are then taken them around the slopes of Meteora and around the whole village so that the whole area is blessed and the crops flourish.
In the village of Kastraki visitors can combine a number of activities: tourism, sports, religion, tasting local foods, walking and relaxing in the countryside. One thing is sure: one has the time of one’s life at Easter at Meteora and Kastraki.
Article by Eugene G.